How three Kentucky women are fighting for reproductive rights in their state

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Three hours east of Louisville, Kentucky, through old mining towns in the Appalachian foothills, hidden behind a series of empty law offices is Hazard’s newest and most unique coffee shop.

Most days, Michelle Lawson, 33, sips iced tea there in her favorite chair, with a clear view out the door. Strapped to her chest is a white bag with rainbow letters spelling Kate Spade. Inside is lip gloss, a Lisa Frank phone case her daughter gave her and, since last month, a gun.

Lawson has lived in the screams of Hazard his entire life, so it came as a surprise when he started receiving death threats in his city of 4,900. “Hey, killer bitch,” he boomed a deep voice from his phone. “If the police don’t hold him accountable, we will. Look to you.”

Lawson is an attorney who was recently viral for offering pro bono services to Kentucky women who perform or obtain abortions following the revocation of Roe vs. Wade. I didn’t even know his tweet was public until the 35,000 likes started coming in, or else I probably wouldn’t have included the direct line to his office.

“I was hoping maybe 20 people would see that tweet, to be honest with you,” he says, his soft Kentucky accent hard to hear over the throbbing techno of the coffee shop. She has helped mentor about 20 people since then and hopes that number will grow.

Lawson spent years at an Appalachian nonprofit organization, offering legal assistance in domestic violence cases. That job also had its fair share of threats, but this was different. People called out to her and pretended to thank her, only to vomit virulence once they passed her secretary. They haven’t deterred Lawson, though; in fact, her violent anger has only reaffirmed the necessity of her work.

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Kentucky has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country; in 2010, More than half of the women in the state reported being raped by their current or former intimate partner. It is a reality that is intimately linked to access to reproductive care and that Lawson knows personally. Plan B was her saving grace when she woke up to her and she found out that her ex-husband had raped her in her sleep seven years ago. “Domestic violence is a pandemic for us as much as anything else,” she says. “When you talk about abortion, you can’t stop talking about domestic violence.”

Lawson believes the fallout from ambiguous abortion policies could have a significant impact on Kentucky families. In the near future, you may also have to defend cases you never expected, determining, for example, whether frozen embryos could be considered humane in divorce cases.

Kentucky Residents Knew the Abortion Policy Game Long Before Roe it fell. For years, there have been only three abortion providers in the entire state and a shortage of OB/GYNs per capita. But now the game has new rules that even the experts don’t understand. Take a look at Amendment 2 on the November ballot, the proposal to ban constitutional protections for abortions in Kentucky, and you’ll have a hard time differentiating between yes and no, no matter which side you’re on. “It reads like it’s purposefully confusing,” says Lawson.