On Wednesday, May 14th, the Alabama Senate passed the most restrictive abortion ban in the U.S. Governor Kay Ivey signed it the next day. Let’s start with the more hopeful side of things. A warning: there isn’t much.
To clear things up, abortion is still legal in all 50 states. This was determined by Roe v. Wade, in which the Supreme Court included the right to an abortion in a person’s “right to privacy,” balanced by state regulation in the best interest of women’s health and a possible human life. Alabama’s near-total abortion ban is not really enforceable, as it is essentially unconstitutional, and other less restrictive bills such as those passed recently in Georgia, Ohio, Arkansas, Utah, and Mississippi are all unconstitutional as well. These states are already being sued or challenged by numerous lawyers and civil rights organizations, such as the ACLU. They know the drill; abortion bans and regulations are nothing new. There have been numerous failed attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade since 1973. So why are states passing abortion bans in a coordinated, nationwide conservative attack now?
The Supreme Court of the United States is tilted toward the conservative side, thanks to the recent additions of Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. While Roe v. Wade can’t be overturned overnight, smaller amendments can be made. With these abortion bans, conservative politicians are trying to get their case all the way to the Supreme Court, so that Roe v. Wade can be overturned bit by bit. These kinds of cases rarely get near the Supreme Court. Most judges, even conservative ones who are anti-abortion, recognize the supreme nature of Roe v. Wade and strike the state’s challenge as unconstitutional. But if a conservative-leaning Supreme Court gets to vote again on Roe v. Wade? That’s a scarier beast.
What becomes extremely clear with all the new legislation is that these pro-life politicians aren’t really “pro-life.” They’re anti-abortion (for the majority of women, at least). They’re trying to take back something that is explicitly a woman’s right as defined by the Supreme Court. Even without the law, they know it’s something women feel they have a right to, and they are trying to take it from us. When I was less informed, I thought that Republican lawmakers were anti-abortion because of personal and religious beliefs, as they so often claim (which is a little weird, too, considering the separation of church and state). While many Republican voters are anti-abortion because of their beliefs, I’m not sure I can say the same of Republican politicians. If they really cared about being pro-life while being anti-abortion, wouldn’t they just pass laws on better sex education or provide affordable birth care to possibly decrease abortions? And, after all, if their wives, daughters, or mistresses needed an abortion, wouldn’t they get one? That goes for the wealthy too. These legislation are targeting women, but more specifically lower-class women and women of color. (Planned Parenthood pointed out that two of the states passing legislation—Georgia and Mississippi—have large black populations: 32% and 38%, respectively).
Georgia also has the worst maternal mortality rate in the country, and black mothers especially are vulnerable to death during pregnancies.
It gets worse—let’s plunge into the full nightmare that abortion bans would yield. When you consider the consequences that laws such as the ones being passed in Georgia and Alabama could have, it’s hard not to pull your hair out and cry. Again, a full ban on abortions has a very slim chance of being realized in the near, near future. But who’s to say this couldn’t lead to The Handmaid’s Tale in 20 years? Don’t we already feel the probing on our body with every new law being passed?
What would the situation look like if, if, such abortion bans were actually enforced? For starters, Georgia passed legislation (effective January 1st) that would ban abortions upon the detection of a fetus’s heartbeat, around the six-week mark in a pregnancy (referred to as the “Heartbeat Bill”). HB 481 bans doctors from administering abortions after the heartbeat. Although it does allow for abortions before the heartbeat, make no mistake—this is pretty much a full abortion ban. Six weeks. Six weeks is maybe one missed or irregular period. Six weeks is unnoticeable if you aren’t expecting to get pregnant. All of a sudden, you’re carrying a fetus and any kind of choice is stripped away from you. You are not allowed what is best for your health, your life, or any potential life. The horror of losing all semblance of control over your own body and your future might outweigh your fear of the ban. Maybe you try to go out of state to discreetly get an abortion, or maybe you die trying at home. It all sounds like some dystopian terror story, doesn’t it?
Over in Alabama, it’s somehow even worse. 25 white male state senators triumphantly sent their prized abortion ban to Governor Kay Ivey to sign. This bill would allow no exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest. Democrats tried to include an amendment for those two specific situations, but Republicans shot it down. Of course. Full war. Senator Minority Leader Bobby Singleton yelled at the Republicans the night of the final vote, “You just aborted the state of Alabama! You just raped Alabama with this bill!”
These bills, no matter how unconstitutional, are scary and threatening. They remind us that some people would force a rape victim to carry a child to full term, all for the purpose of overturning Roe v. Wade—an act which in itself reflects extreme misogyny. It’s almost like those men cannot or choose not to realize how violating this is. Not a single one of those 25 Alabama senators have ever experienced their rights being taken away from them, nor have they ever had to think about it. They all know, however, how to weaponize rights, how to take them away and lower others’ status. They want us to fear for our lives—we already have to worry about rape, and now we have to worry about the possibility of having a rapist’s child. Is there anything more barbaric than that? Georgia’s law literally defines an embryo or fetus with a heartbeat as a person. Some say this could provide a future reason for miscarriages to be investigated for proof of miscarriage rather than attempted abortion (like pre-Roe v. Wade times).
Anti-abortion, anti-choice lawmakers want women—flesh and blood, fully formed women with lives and families—to be legally less of a human being than an embryo. These laws own our bodies, trap our bodies, violate our bodies, probe and touch and tie up our bodies. They essentially render professional medical advice useless. Doctors would be charged to up to 99 years in prison if they performed an abortion in Alabama under the ban. It’s a higher felony than rape. That is pure cruelty, whether you believe abortion is a personal right or not. There is nothing that can justify all the negative repercussions of such a cruel abortion ban. Abortion rates most likely won’t go down, but illegal, unsafe abortions will probably increase. More neglected children. Lower numbers of educated, successful women. Absolutely no one wins from a full abortion ban except those wanting to oppress women.
These laws have succeeded in making us worry and fear. They’ve made us angry, frustrated, and absolutely disgusted. And if they contribute to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, they will have also succeeded in making us less equal and less protected.
Annie Walton Doyle
Ameerah de Chabert