Alabama's Anti-Abortion Law: The Alabama Senate vs Human Rights
What is being “pro-life” if you only care about a clump of cells forming and not the eventual child’s quality of life?
Words by Georgia Gadsby
Image from Cosmopiltan
*Trigger Warning: Rape is mentioned within this article*
1 in 4 women have had an abortion. To put that into perspective, that’s about 7 of your classmates at school or university, 37 people in a full movie theatre screening, or 20 people on a full double decker bus. It could mean one person in your friendship group or one person in your immediate family. It means several of your school teachers, your neighbours and your colleagues at work. It means that a lot of people you know have sought medical care for an unwanted pregnancy and they have every right to do so.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care, in England and Wales 98% of abortions were funded by the NHS in 2017. In England and Wales we are extremely lucky to live in a society that allows for us to have control over our own bodies. We get to decide whether going through 9 months of pregnancy and consequently raising a child is what we want, and if we come to the conclusion that it isn’t then that’s ok. Circumstances don’t matter. Anything as severe as rape and incest down to just simply not wanting a baby are valid reasons to have an abortion and are all respected by health care professionals and abortion providers in our country. We are lucky. Not all of our counterparts in America have this right, and a little closer to home, neither do our friends in Northern Ireland.
Sadly this is the reality for so many women, non-binary people, and trans people who find themselves pregnant. Not only are many unable to afford an abortion, but now new bills have been signed to prevent the procedure completely. Most recently, the state of Alabama passed an anti-abortion bill, overturning the legalisation of abortion in 1973. This bill bans abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy, effectively criminalising abortion altogether, and does not allow for patients to travel to other states to have the procedure. According to the American Pregnancy Association, on average most women find out they are pregnant between four and seven weeks. It’s important to remember that at four weeks pregnant, this may not even be considered a late period. For women with irregular or longer cycles (30 days+), 5 weeks pregnant is only a few days late, creeping further and further into the 6 week abortion ban territory. Taking this into consideration, the anti-abortion bill seriously limits people’s access to abortion.
The senators who back up their ‘for’ vote with the idea that the “baby” has a heartbeat from 6 weeks, referencing the name of the bill - the ‘heartbeat bill’, have been met with criticism. What is a heartbeat without a brain? Many have compared the situation to taking someone off of life support. A fully formed and aged person with a life and family can be “unplugged” after being confirmed as brain dead, but a woman does not have the right to choose what is best for her own body because there is a clump of cells in her uterus that may or may not have a functioning organ inside of it. This clump of cells has no thought processes, no memory, and no feeling, but upon conception is given more rights than the person carrying it. This clump of cells has been given a right to grow and develop while the woman, non-binary or trans person carrying it unwillingly becomes depressed, traumatised, and loses all feeling of control.
There is a question that pro-lifers use consistently: “What if your baby is the one that cures cancer?” This is frequently met with the response: “What if the woman carrying it is?”. It is a question that humanises something that is not human, and leads people to believe that all life deserves to live because of opportunity, but what would that life be like? Painting a picture, this woman is young, excellent at school, may well have been the person to cure cancer, but fell pregnant. She has no option but to carry it. She has good grades, but she has never had a job. Her parents struggle for money as they both work full time in minimum wage jobs. She already shares a room with her little sister, there is no space for a baby. Inevitably, the baby will be born and placed into the foster care system. A system arguably as corrupt as Alabama’s senate. A system that moves children from home to home, subjects them to abuse, can be a breeding ground for mental illness, and gives them an unstable upbringing. What is being “pro-life” if you only care about a clump of cells forming and not the eventual child’s quality of life?
Carrying an unwanted baby also traumatises the pregnant person. Their body changes against their will, they feel kicks and pressure they never wanted to form a connection to, they feel powerless. In the matter of rape and/or incest, this can be even more traumatising. When carrying your attacker’s baby is your only option, we can only imagine how every day becomes a struggle and a reminder of the violation experienced. A few minutes of trauma turns into 9 months of pain and exhaustion that cannot be moved on from. It is unlikely that any form of therapy or counselling would be able to heal a 12 year old child, as one case shares, from the abuse and impregnation that took place from a trusted elder and the 9 months that follows. Additionally, there is no justice nor peace for the abused. With rapists receiving only 10 year sentences while people performing or having abortions receive 99 years, the Alabama senate has allowed women to truly realise that we are turning back time. We are, in effect, becoming second class citizens.
Many have likened the bill to something out of ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’, a show based on Margaret Atwood’s novel detailing a present-day society in which men take over and force fertile women to become ‘handmaids’. These characters are forcibly impregnated and carry their rapists child for the purpose of keeping the human race alive. Despite us currently having no problems with reproduction (if anything the world is overpopulated), the fiction television show bears a striking resemblance to modern day society. People took to the streets in protest dressed as handmaids from the show to share their views on how women are being treated as reproductive organs as opposed to people with hopes, dreams, and goals.
There is also the matter of unsafe abortions. Reverting back to before the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that legalised abortions means that pregnant people will seek the procedure by other means. Underground systems will be created, doctors will perform abortions with incorrect guidance or equipment, people will become desperate and attempt to do the procedure themselves. People will die.
So what can we do? The bill was passed owing to a decision made by 25 white male Alabama State Governors. In the wise words of Rachel Green from Friends, “no uterus, no opinion”, so share yours. The bill will be met with many legal challenges before it comes into effect and while this is happening this is the time to protest. Make your voice heard. If you are located in the US, write to your local senators and governors. Take to the streets with signs. Sign any online petitions you see regarding the matter. Encourage men to take a stand alongside you, as we often forget that many men have benefitted from their partner’s abortions too. Take it one step further and volunteer to become an abortion clinic escort. Above all, keep talking. Inform your friends, family and neighbours. Write articles. Post photos. Share your story. Don’t shut the hell up about it.