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Kentucky's abortion trigger ban takes effect

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Abortion was legal in the Commonwealth of Kentucky Friday morning. At 10:10 a.m. Eastern Time, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. And providing that care became a crime in almost all instances. The commonwealth is now a whole in the weakening patchwork of abortion access in the United States. NPR's Leila Fadel is in Louisville and brings us this story of a protest and a celebration.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: AMW Women's Surgical Center was one of the only two places providing abortions in all of Kentucky.

I just tried to open the door. It is locked. The sign on the door says they are typically open until 7 p.m., but today at 5 p.m., after the Supreme Court ruling, their doors are closed, their doors are locked. They are no longer providing that care.

A trigger law went into effect, all abortions banned. The only exception is in the case of a pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother. No exception for rape. No exception for incest. The sidewalk outside AMW - typically crowded with anti-abortion rights protesters and escorts in orange vests helping patients get past the protesters. And inside was empty. But a few blocks away, a chorus of chants rang out from a crowd of hundreds.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)

FADEL: They marched through downtown to protest the Supreme Court decision and the new ban in Kentucky, until they arrived at Metro Hall, where the city government is housed. Stephanie Heybert was waiting with her 8-month-old-son and her sign.

STEPHANIE HEYBERT: My son says, keep your rosaries out of my ovaries.

FADEL: In a country that purports to have a separation of church and state, she says, she doesn't understand why her reproductive rights are no longer protected.

HEYBERT: I'm scared because I really have a strong feeling it's going to be hard to get birth control at some point. I'm scared for all of the women in my life, scared for all of the teenagers, all the girls who, like, are now able to have babies. I'm scared for everybody. And I don't really know what else to say. I'm just angry.

FADEL: So when you talk about being scared, can you talk about that a little bit more? You said you're scared for yourself ando and women.

HEYBERT: I'm scared for if I got pregnant and, say, I had an ectopic pregnancy or something and I wasn't going to be able to save myself by having that abortion or if something was severely wrong with my child. I would have to force that child to be born and live in pain for however long. You know, or children, teenagers, women in general being raped and then forced to carry the rapist's child. Yeah, it's scary.

FADEL: Today, she's 28 and a new mom. But at 16, she made a different choice.

HEYBERT: I got pregnant and was in a horrible place with a horrible guy. And I knew that it was just not the time to do that. So I had an abortion. And then I got pregnant with him and decided that it was finally time. And so I was glad I was - I'm glad I was able to make both of those choices.

FADEL: Nearby, Meg Sasse Stern finishes speaking to the crowd. For 20 years, she's escorted patients in and out of AMW to protect them from the harassment of anti-abortion rights protesters.

MEG SASSE STERN: I've been shoved. I've been grabbed. I've been threatened. I've had pictures of my house and my address posted online.

FADEL: Still, she took the risk every Saturday for two decades until today. Now she's not sure what is and what isn't legal, yet she holds a sign that says, I will aid and abet abortion.

STERN: I need to read the law to know truly what it is that I might be criminalized for. Is it sharing information? Is it saying, you can borrow my car? Who's going to prosecute me? You know, at this moment in time, I'm willing to hold this sign and say, here's a bunch of information about how abortion is safe and accessible.

FADEL: That access may mean driving ours to a state like Illinois, where it is still legal. On the outskirts of the crowd, trucks and SUVs are blocking the road. Amber Brown is directing one last vehicle into a makeshift barricade.

Are you parked here?

AMBER BROWN: No. I mean, I've, like, made sure that cars were parked instead of bikes.

FADEL: Why?

BROWN: Because the people who are opposing have no problem killing us.

FADEL: Are you worried somebody is going to drive into the...

BROWN: Yes. I'm worried about that every time we protest, about any of the matters that we're protesting, because somehow they're controversial. But the problem becomes that while almost everybody in this crowd will be nonviolent, the people that we are opposing will not be nonviolent. We've seen that when it comes to bombing abortion clinics, when it comes to how they've attacked our reproductive rights.

FADEL: On this same night in Des Moines, Iowa, a man drove a pickup truck into two abortion rights protesters. But here in Louisville, on this day, there are no counter-protesters at the demonstration, maybe an indication that one side of the fight over abortion access feels it has won.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) You've been so, so good to me.

FADEL: The next morning, there's a festival outside a local Catholic church organized by Right to Life of Louisville. There's a petting zoo with alpacas in tutus, kids tossing beanbags, free hot dogs and cotton candy. This is a party.

JILLIAN DAVIS: Hi.

FADEL: Is this your daughter inside?

DAVIS: Yeah.

FADEL: Oh, she's so cute.

Jillian Davis is watching her 1-1/2-year-old jump in one of the multicolored bouncy houses. Her husband carries her 4-year-old, and she has another baby on the way. Her opinion on abortion is informed by her faith and being a mom.

DAVIS: I think that life begins at conception. And so for me, while I certainly understand the perspective of the mother's rights, I think this is one of the situations in which we have two competing rights. We have two people who share a body for a certain period of time.

FADEL: For your whole life, Roe v. Wade has been settled law.

DAVIS: Yeah. I never thought we would see it completely overturned in the way it was yesterday.

FADEL: She calls the decision a victory. This is an issue that people have different views on...

DAVIS: Right.

FADEL: ...And really even different interpretations through faith. So I'm just curious what you say to people who are really angry right now and really scared.

DAVIS: Yeah. I can completely understand it. I think it is scary. I think that people who have been in the life movement have been also angry, paralyzed as well, too. And so I get that. I think this is a time where we come together, where we see each other's perspective, and we come together as a society and say, how do we support mothers and families?

FADEL: Nearby, Corey Koellner, the organizer of the event and executive director of Right to Life of Louisville, is dealing with a bouncy house emergency. One has deflated.

COREY KOELLNER: Generator for our bounce house is going down, so I'm trying to get a hold of the vendor so he can...

FADEL: When he's got that fixed, he has time to chat. The festival had been planned in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision.

KOELLNER: It's really turned it from a anticipatory kind of thing to more of a for sure celebration for the people of Louisville. Because, as you know, as of 10:10 yesterday, Kentucky is an abortion-free state.

FADEL: How does that feel?

KOELLNER: It's a long time coming, but the pro-life community is, like I said, they're they're very pleased. A lot of people and working hard for nearly 50 years to see this day come.

FADEL: Behind Koellner, a few security guards standby just in case - a protest and a party in a city divided. But soon in Kentucky, the legal battles over abortion will begin again. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Louisville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.