Yeah, it sounds dramatic. But you can’t objectively look at the draconian abortion bills signed into law in Ohio and Georgia, and passed by the Alabama senate on Tuesday, without understanding that what this is, at its core, is a war on women.
I want to preface this by saying that all of this is happening in a time in human history when abortion rates recently hit the lowest rate since Roe v. Wade, which makes all of this even more difficult to comprehend.
Ohio’s legislation is a near-total ban on abortion in the state. It classifies performing an abortion as a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to one year in prison. And that sentencing guideline is downright lenient compared to the other two.
In Georgia, the law previously held that abortions were legal up to 20 weeks, and beyond that could be approved on a case-by-case basis if the mother’s life were in danger should she carry that pregnancy to term. Now, the limit is six weeks — which is earlier than most women realize they’re actually pregnant. Georgia’s law does provide an exemption in cases of rape and incest. But it also carries the potential for criminal investigation and charges against a doctor who performs an abortion after six weeks, and against a woman who suffers a miscarriage.
Well, hold Alabama’s beer, because the state senate passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the country this week. It essentially outlaws all abortions. An amendment to exempt victims of rape and incest failed dramatically. Doctors who perform abortions in Alabama, if this bill is signed into law, could face up to 99 years in prison. That’s more, if you’re keeping score at home, than a rapist would get for impregnating a woman against her will in the first place.
Here are some things we all need to know about this trend and why it’s happening now.
This is purely an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade
Lawmakers haven’t dodged the issue. When Iowa passed similar legislation, state Rep. Shannon Lundgren said it was time for the Supreme Court to reconsider.
Alabama state Rep. Terri Collins echoed that sentiment Tuesday.
“This bill’s purpose is to hopefully get to the Supreme Court and have them revisit the actual decision, which was, is the baby in a womb a person?” Collins said, according to NBC News. “And we believe technology and science shows that it is. You can see that baby tissue develop all the way through now.”
The problem is that Donald Trump, who is miraculously pro-life despite his proclivity toward banging women he isn’t married to and the presumption that he wouldn’t want those, um, unions to result in actual children, flat out said he hoped to stack the Court with two to three conservative justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. He’s added Neil Gorsuch and the infamous Brett Kavanaugh, which makes the resolution of this batch of state-level abortion legislation a big old question mark.
This isn’t an abortion ban; it’s forced pregnancy legislation
If there’s one good thing about Alabama’s legislation, it at least made Georgia look slightly less backward for including an exemption for rape and incest.
Alabama shot that down easily despite hearing from rape survivors and impassioned pleas from Sen. Bobby Singleton, a democrat, who told his peers that they “don’t care about babies for real.”
What they established with that vote, in practice, is that if a young woman — say, a 12-year-old, a child herself, a girl too young to even legally give consent for sex — is the victim of rape or incest and becomes pregnant as a result, she not only has to live through that trauma, but also carry that pregnancy to term and then give birth to her assaulter’s baby with a body that’s nowhere near physically prepared to give birth, and a mind that’s not mature enough to weather that mental and emotional storm that few women — grown ones — could come through whole.
What about her right to life? This is the opposite of justice; the opposite of compassion. It’s the opposite of pro-life. It’s tyranny.
Criminalizing miscarriage is cruel and has no place in any society
I don’t talk about this much, but I’ve had two miscarriages. It’s pretty common in women with undiagnosed celiac disease, which I suffered from until 2009. Nothing in your body works right when it’s constantly exposed to something that’s poisoning it, which in this case was gluten.
Both miscarriages were devastating. I had to go home, knowing I’d lost both pregnancies — pregnancies I hoped would end with babies I very much wanted — and wait for my body to expel them naturally, which I won’t belabor, but it is awful. The second one, that’s how it happened. The first one didn’t, and I had to go back to the hospital for a D&C, which is the same procedure used in abortions. That was also terrible, to be frank.
I wasn’t in a good place mentally for quite a while after either miscarriage. It’s been 20+ years since the first one, and I still get weepy on the anniversaries of each date. If I’d had to face questioning at the time from law enforcement and the potential of criminal charges if they determined it was somehow my fault, I’m not certain I would have survived it. I’m pretty sure, because I vividly recall what a dark place I was in, that I wouldn’t have had much motivation to try to survive it.
A miscarriage, like an abortion, is a deeply personal thing. It should be up to the woman and her partner to handle it the way they see fit, with input from a qualified health care provider. Period. End of discussion. Criminalizing miscarriage is, to put it bluntly, completely batshit insane. There’s no excuse for this.
You can’t just be “pro-life” about fetuses in a woman’s uterus
Let’s talk about Alabama state Sen. Clyde Chambliss for a moment, because this guy is a special kind of stupid.
Chambliss was asked about fertilized eggs in a lab, because the conservative argument is that life begins at conception, i.e. when an egg is fertilized by sperm. But Chambliss says that doesn’t count.
See, folks, it’s not a life unless there’s a woman to punish for terminating it. Because this isn’t about protecting the sanctity of life; it’s about exerting control over women and stripping away our bodily autonomy.
As an aside, to drive home the point that Chambliss ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed, he also said, via Kyle Whitmire of Alabama Media Group, that the bill does make an exception for victims of incest “until the woman is known to be pregnant.”
I don’t feel like it’s breaking news that women don’t have abortions before they know they’re pregnant. Nobody this dumb should be telling women what we can and cannot do with our own bodies.
It makes a mockery of the First Amendment
The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, a document our lawmakers have sworn to uphold, states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The debate in the Alabama Senate revolved almost exclusively around Christian perspectives on abortion — which aren’t even necessarily CHRISTIAN perspectives so much as they are evangelical republican perspectives. The real origins of the religious right and the abortion debate lie in a desire to avoid desegregation, so we should all be extremely suspect of this crowd anyway. Their motives aren’t pure, and they worship the republican party, not the God of Christianity.
Regardless, this discussion has no place on the floor of any state Senate, and much less at the federal level. Religious freedom means that each American is free to practice, or not practice, any religion they choose without intervention from the government. These laws effectively force women to adhere to what these people are pushing as Christianity.
It won’t stop here
Sixteen states have similar legislation in the works. The hope is to overwhelm the Supreme Court and force them to overturn Roe v. Wade. I don’t believe they’ll stop until they achieve that.
The war on women is far from over
You may think the “war on women” phrasing is hyperbolic, but there’s one striking thing that all of this legislation has in common. There’s no penalty for men who get a woman pregnant, either consensually or against her will.
In case you were absent on the day your sixth grade health teacher covered this in sex ed, a woman can only become pregnant with an assist from sperm, which she cannot produce herself. Criminalizing abortion and pushing the penalties onto women and health care providers with no consequences for the other part of the equation is lopsided and absurd.
Where do we go from here?
There’s no easy answer, so I’m going to stream of consciousness some thoughts.
- Nobody wants to have an abortion, regardless of what your mom’s friend who’s wearing a MAGA hat in her avi says on Facebook. It’s a deeply personal, painful decision and it should remain a private one. The decision in Roe v. Wade has protected that privacy for 46 years now. It should continue to be protected, and we should all respect that.
- Have some compassion. Think through the human cost of this legislation. Set aside your personal beliefs and ask yourself if you’d really force someone you love to carry a pregnancy that resulted from rape to term. Ask yourself if you could, in good conscience, force a woman to face criminal charges after suffering a miscarriage. Really, think about it, and be honest with yourself.
- If you want to help, donate to groups that are already doing the work in these states. Check out ARC-SE in Georgia and Yellowhammer Fund in Alabama. Donate to the ACLU, which will fight this legislation with everything it’s got.
- Support female candidates. Run for office if you’re so moved, or support women who do. Donate to their campaigns, and vote for these women. Old white men shouldn’t be making reproductive decisions for us, and we need a voice at every level of government now more than ever before.
- If you oppose abortion, that’s fine. Don’t have one. But respect the privacy and the bodily autonomy of your fellow Americans, and serve yourself up a nice warm cup of mind your own business.