Since the beginning of 2019, 14 states have passed or introduced 250 bills restricting abortion. Emboldened by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, lawmakers are determined to challenge access to safe, legal abortion nationally by introducing unconstitutional “heartbeat” bills which ban abortions after six weeks. Last November, Amendment 2, giving an unborn child rights, became law in Alabama. Today Alabama House Bill 314 and Senate Bill 211 would ban all abortions in the state even in cases of rape and incest. If passed, this proposed law becomes a death sentence for women seeking abortions across the state and a jail sentence for doctors trying to provide access to healthcare for women.
This year in Alabama, Ryan Magers sued the Alabama Center for Reproductive Alternatives, the clinic where his ex-girlfriend, a high school student at the time, terminated her pregnancy. He petitioned probate judge Frank Barger to represent the estate of “Baby Roe,” the six-week-old embryo. When Barger granted Magers his request, Magers sued the clinic and the pill manufacturer his ex-girlfriend used to end the pregnancy, a historic action in which an embryo or fetus has been legally recognized as a person.
Alabama lawmakers are creating a world where an embryo has more rights than a woman, and women are reduced to being incubators and vessels of a man’s will. If Eric Johnston, a lawyer and member of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, and the Republican politicians succeed, Alabama men — husbands, fathers, boyfriends, rapists — have the right to control women’s present and future lives, our own agency and aspirations shackled by a biblical version of a woman’s place and a deceptive paternalism in which men, and some women, claim their main concern is children when their main goal is overturning Roe v. Wade. What if, however, instead of valuing women only as containers for embryos, we saw men, as writer Rebecca Solnit suggests, as containers of potentially explosive material that can blow up women for nine months and generate children. What if we saw these same men through the lens we now view women as immoral and incapable of making decisions about their own bodies without consent?
Who are these men behind the current Alabama law? Men with the same mentality as the politician tracking the pregnancies of migrant girls to make sure they stay pregnant long enough so they can’t legally obtain an abortion. The same men who believe it’s okay for good Christian men like Roy Moore to molest teenage girls, men who believe the President has a right to grab women’s genitals, men who can somehow track migrant’s reproductive lives in an Excel spreadsheet but can’t reunite children and mothers; instead, they funnel the children to Christian adoption agencies Besty Devos has been linked to.
Cindi Branham, an Alabama Reproductive Advocate board member, believes, “These laws are nothing more than a hidden attempt by churches and attorneys to fill the adoption pipeline. Each entity stands to make tens of thousands of dollars on each adoption.” In her opinion, this ban is “another form of human trafficking.”
Who are the women corralled into believing their power isn’t in their own political, sexual and financial independence but aligned with these same men? Women like a friend I know who struggled for years to conceive and finally did through in vitro fertilization giving birth to a beautiful baby she loves deeply. Her struggle and love have blinded her to the rights of other women; in her mind, if a woman chooses an abortion, she’s depriving other mothers of the ability to adopt a longed-for baby. But under this legislation and logic, half the fertilized eggs which don’t implant during in vitro fertilization (and even contraception) are considered murder. Other women, like Republican Rep. Terri Collins who introduced the bill, have simply internalized their own oppression.
Currently, eight states have introduced bills this legislative session that, if passed, ban abortions. Our neighbors to the west have banned abortion in Mississippi, and to the east, Georgia Governor Kemp will most likely sign into law a ban on a women’s right to choose whether to terminate her pregnancy. Texas has even proposed a bill allowing the death penalty for women who have abortions
We live in a time of mass incarceration and mass criminalization and now women seeking medical help will become criminals if these proposed bills pass. We already live in a world where women and providers are threatened, clinics are bombed and access to good reproductive healthcare is a challenge. Banning abortions will not keep them from happening. Women will find medication on the black market along with more dangerous methods of ending an unwanted pregnancy. Abortions will be dangerous, costly and hard to get, but they will continue. Women of means will always be able to get an abortion, but poor women, will suffer, remain in a cycle of poverty, and potentially die as we return to a time of coat hangers and knitting needles as solutions, many coerced into offering up their children for adoption in a system that’s nothing short of legalized human trafficking.
I’m a journalist in Birmingham, Alabama, co-author of Lilly Ledbetter’s memoir, Grace and Grit: How I Won My Fight at Goodyear and Beyond (Random House in 2012). My essays have been published in the LA Times, Huffington Post and The Bitter Southerner, as well as various regional publications.