How Playing in a Cover Band Led Me to Become an Abortion Provider

AJ Haynes (Seratones) on her unexpected career as a patient advocate and Hope Medical Group's upcoming Supreme Court case.

During my undergrad years, I had a cover band called A.J. Haynes and the Monkey Business. We would play mostly little known covers as a creative compromise to cash in on the local cover band market. After all, a girl has to eat and pay for those expensive books… and have an excuse to learn Arthur Crudup and Aretha Franklin deep cuts. 

Robin Rothrock, the late founder of Hope Medical Group, invited us to perform at the clinic’s annual Christmas party in 2007. As the party began to wind down, Robin, Kathaleen Pittman (the current clinic administrator), and I sat around the backyard fire pit, sipping margaritas and sharing our stories about old loves and life experiences. I asked what services they provided and if they were hiring — the clinic sat across the street from my college, so it would be an ideal place to pick up some extra work. Robin asked me how I felt about abortion, and women having multiple abortions. I had never been directly prompted about my thoughts regarding abortion, but after brief pause I replied, “A woman should have dominion over her own body.” Simple as that. I started working at the clinic soon after and have since spent about a third of my life working as a patient advocate at Hope Medical Group, one of three remaining abortion clinics in Louisiana.

The role of the patient advocate was created out of necessity. We know what our patients need and how to address their concerns with compassion. We meet with patients during the state-mandated consultation that is required at least 24 hours prior to receving abortion services. In other words, by the time they make it to my office, most patients have already had to deal with barriers to access: barely having enough money to make it to the clinic for the initial visit, having little or no support from friends and family, misleading or inaccurate information regarding abortion, sidewalk harrassment from anti-abortion antagonizers, and a generally hostile climate around physical autonomy and comprehensive sexual education. I walk into my office knowing that I’m probably the last person a patient wants to see after dealing with an immense load of bullshit. They are justifiably tired, most likely irritable due to pregnancy symptoms, and typically very stressed. Many of the state-required documents (that we cannot alter or tailor to our patients’ actual needs) sublimate condescension — as if patients don’t know what’s best for their bodies and their situations. It is my duty to help provide a space for them to ask questions without judgement, to listen to their narratives of survival, and to provide them with medically accurate, helpful information. I feel lucky to help people on their path to physical autonomy, to advocate for sexual freedom, and to witness the stories of our resilient patients. 

Working at Hope is not always easy, but it’s always worthwhile. The spectre of violence against us is never too far away, from the windows we can’t have, to blatant threats, to the verbal assault from sidewalk cowards. There are days the insidious aggressions of the Department of Health and Hospitals can make the clinic feel like a crucible. There is an ongoing, national coordinated effort by anti-abortion groups and politicians to enact laws to legislate abortion care out of existence, effectively banning abortion without ever having to touch Roe v. Wade. These targeted regulations of abortion providers, or TRAP laws, are burdensome, medically unnecessary, and are designed to prevent access to abortion care. Abortion care is necessary healthcare and a right. These TRAP laws violate our right to access healthcare. We abortion providers, especially independent providers, know the devastating effect these laws have on our communities. In Louisiana, a state with the second highest poverty rate in the nation, some 94% of Louisiana parishes have no clinics that provide abortions, and 72% of Louisiana women live in those parishes. Restricting access to abortion perpetuates cycles of poverty. When we do not have the ability to self-determine if, when, and how we decide to grow our families, we are trapped in a cycle of violence against our autonomy. 

All the more frustrating and hypocritical, then is the fact that the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals uses taxpayers’ money to restrict its citizens physical autonomy. In the next few months with June Medical Services (Hope Medical Group) v. Gee (The Department of Health and Hospitals), the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether Louisiana’s admitting privileges law (Act 620) is unconstitutional based on its precedent in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt from just three years ago. In that case, the Supreme Court struck down an identical Texas law, ruling that admitting privileges laws are unconstitutional because they shut down clinics without providing any health or safety benefits to patients. This law requires physicians who provide abortion care in Louisiana to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic. So the upcoming court case is challenging an identical law that was struck down in 2016. The facts, the law, and the Constitution have not changed since 2016. The decision should be the same. The only thing that has changed, however, is the make-up of SCOTUS. This should be a straightforward decision for the Supreme Court. The facts call for the Court to apply its precedent. This is an identical law and requires the same decision. In addition to our right to access abortion, the integrity of the Supreme Court is at stake. 

With the weight of this upcoming court case in addition to the balancing act of emotional labor required to provide compassionate healthcare, it’s easy to become weary from the daily struggle. I can’t imagine doing this work without the strength of the Hope Medical Group staff. We keep each other sane, safe, and supported. I can say that, in the face of mounting pressures, we have come to receive more support than ever before: the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Abortion Care Network, the National Abortion Federation, the Abortion Access Front, Shout Your Abortion, the National Abortion Rights Action League, Sister Song, New Orleans Abortion Fund, and the many other individuals who send us love and support are immensely important. In addition to supporting these groups, you can send direct support to our patients through the Goldstein Fund

(Photo Credit: left, Dylan Glasgow Guice; right, Sarah McCammon)

AJ Haynes is the lead singer of the Seratones. Their latest album, Power, is out now.

(Photo credit: Chad Kamenshine)