Two days after Mother’s Day — a single day in the calendar year meant to honour the hard and often underappreciated job carried out by women — Alabama passed what has become the most restrictive abortion measure in the United States.
The bill, which succeeded in the Republican controlled state senate 25 votes to six Tuesday night, means Alabama will force girls and women who have been raped to become biological mothers.
It means the state will force girls and women who are victims of incest to become mothers. Anyone who is found by the state to have performed an abortion could face 10 to 99 years in prison, forcing women to seek abortions unsafely underground or in another state so that they won’t become mothers.
But these state legislators do not seem to give a damn about mothers — unless, of course, their life is in jeopardy (that’s when, according to this bill, they might choose to save the woman’s life over protecting the fetus). And with a measure like this, they certainly have no concern for whether a woman wants to become one.
It’s not like life is easy for mothers or their children in this southern state. Single moms in Alabama spend 29 per cent of their income on childcare, while the average family nationwide spends about half that. More than a quarter of kids in Alabama live in poverty, according to a 2018 report on the well-being of children in that state, which found that children are worse off today than they were two decades ago. Babies don’t fare particularly well either — Alabama has the second highest infant mortality rate in the U.S.
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Why do women have abortions? More often than not, they just cannot afford to have a child — healthcare in the U.S. is prohibitively expensive, not to mention childcare. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank, 49 per cent of women who get abortions live below the poverty line. Many of them also have zero supports to help them raise the child. They’re shamed, stigmatized and looked down on for being unfit in the eyes of society. They fear their children will be taken into foster care, that they’d have to give them up for adoption. Worse, the baby is going to have no life at all on account of a horrific health condition. Or — God forbid — they just do not want to grow a human being inside of them.
Fifty-nine percent of abortions in the U.S. are performed on women who have children already, the Guttmacher Institute reports. In other words, they’re moms.
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To these legislators, these women — these mothers — do not get the right to freedom of person that men do, regardless of the fact that fetuses are in fact fetuses before they become babies, once Roe v. Wade considers them viable outside of the womb, after 24 weeks gestation.
This power women have to carry a life inside them is terrifying. It has to be controlled, and by those with the power in society.
To them, these women are happy to murder a fetus because its presence is inconvenient — which is a completely warped view of the frightening reality faced by many women who seek out abortions. And the president’s attempts to characterize abortion as children being “ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth” are scare-mongering, false and particularly unfair to those who’ve been raped or the victims of incest.
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Just listen to how the sponsor of the Alabama measure, Senator Clyde Chambliss characterized abortions, as if they were available through some kind of vending machine: “What this bill is designed to do is to go to the Supreme Court and challenge that particular precedence that said in 1973 that abortion is legal — on demand, essentially any time anywhere for any reason.”
The meat of this statement, however, is what should concern anyone who cares about women’s rights. This bill was designed to limit the rights of women in the entire country, not just Alabama. Georgia’s recent “heartbeat law,” which seeks to ban abortion after a heartbeat can be detected in a fetus — which can be as early as six weeks — is another outright challenge to that highest law of the land. There are 16 states considering or moving forward with similar restrictions.
The president’s appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court has tilted the balance of power in favour of anti-abortion conservatives, who can very well revisit Roe v. Wade, likely through incremental means, as pundits have observed.
The anti-abortion movement has been making slow, intentional plans for what’s happening now — and what they hope will eventually be a national ban on abortion. They’re playing the long game, branding themselves to be hip and cool and appeal to young people who crave rebellion or who consider themselves feminists but don’t support the “killing of babies.”
Last week, anti-abortion activists in Canada flooded Parliament Hill for their annual March for Life, staging a satellite protest for the first time in Toronto. Ontario’s youngest conservative MPP, Sam Oosterhoff, got a lot of attention there for proclaiming that he hopes to make abortion “unthinkable in our lifetime.”
While his Progressive Conservative party leader and premier Doug Ford said there would be no reopening of the abortion debate, what if anti-choicers with lots of money to donate to political campaigns suddenly get the attention of leaders? We are not immune from the amplification of this issue, and the divisiveness it has sparked in the U.S.
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I often wonder why we don’t hear more from anti-abortion activists in Canada or in the U.S. about creating more supports for women who do want to have babies. Why don’t they table more legislation that would support women in poverty, or that would empower young people with the education they need to make smart choices about their bodies instead of reinstituting a regressive sex ed curriculum?
Where are the anti-abortion activists on the issue of free national childcare? Or free contraceptives? Or maybe even on promoting vasectomies for men?
After stripping mothers of choice, I have this earnest hope for the people of Alabama: that the state will announce robust new policies to help victims of rape and incest, and that it will craft tangible, realistic plans to lift its citizens — the children of the state who are already born — out of poverty.
But no policy or program will ever replace a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.
Sarah Boesveld is senior writer at Chatelaine.