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Alabama’s New Abortion Law is a Giant Leap Backward Into the Pre-70s Dark Ages
By Leah Mueller
I’m a Northern girl. Alabama, for me, is a place that has mostly existed in song. In the 1970s, Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd fought over it. Neil bemoaned its deficiencies (“Banjos playing through the broken glass, windows down in Alabama, see the old folks tied in white ropes”) and Ronnie Van Zant penned a song in its defense. That’s the story, anyway. Many folks insist the two men were friends, and the feud was apocryphal. In the end, Neil wound up apologizing to Alabama for depicting the state in such a negative light.
Nowadays, Alabama doesn’t come off smelling like a rose. It’s the third poorest state in the country, after Mississippi and New Mexico. Nearly 17 percent of Alabama’s population is on food stamps. And, though its government spends over 95 million dollars annually on the hunger problem, that amount isn’t nearly enough to feed all the hungry people in the state.
Marijuana remains illegal and punishable by up a year in prison, but prescription opioid use continues to rise. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse website, “In 2017, there were 422 overdose deaths involving opioids in Alabama—a rate of 9.0 deaths per 100,000 persons and over half the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons.”
Many Alabama citizens don’t even make it to adulthood. The state ranks 4th in the nation for infant mortality, with 7.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. Its teen suicide rate continues to rise, recently reaching nine deaths per 100,000 adolescents. That’s a lot of desperate, unhappy young people. And they’re not alone—older people are killing themselves in droves, as well. In 2016, 788 people in Alabama died by their own hand, including 17 people over the age of 85.
In spite of these problems, the state seems to be afflicted by a peculiar case of Stockholm Syndrome. Keep people poor, miserable and hungry, and they will root for their oppressors. In 2016, Alabama voters awarded Donald Trump 62 percent of the vote, 1.5 percent more than they gave Romney four years prior. Trump’s election galvanized Alabama, engaging people who might have stayed home otherwise, or even cast their votes for a (gasp) Democrat. Voter conservatism extends to the state level, where governor Kay Ivey won the 2016 election by nearly twenty percentage points.
These are not good numbers. And now Alabama has a new, horrible figure: It’s the #1 worst state to be stuck in if you need an abortion. Unless you can prove that giving birth would kill you, or that your fetus possesses a lethal abnormality, you’re in it for the long haul. A new law criminalizes abortion, imposing a stiff penalty for scofflaw doctors. Ending a pregnancy is a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. Supposedly, the women won’t be penalized, but that could easily change in the future.
How about cases of rape and incest? The two often go together, don’t they? Forget about getting an abortion in Alabama. Here’s a hypothetical scenario: a 12-year-old girl, impregnated by her father, would need to carry her fetus to term. If a physician took mercy upon the girl and did the procedure anyway, the doctor could go to prison for up to 99 years. That would most likely be more prison time than Dad would serve. Alabama’s maximum rape penalty is also 99 years, but few charges end in conviction. So, in the state’s topsy-turvy universe, a rapist could wander free, while a doctor who performs an abortion might rot behind bars for the rest of her/his life.
I’ve never had an abortion, even though neither of my two conceptions were planned. I decided to carry both pregnancies to term, which was the right choice for me. The key word here is “choice.” I have known numerous women who decided to end their pregnancies. Years ago, I accompanied a close friend to an abortion clinic because she needed support. The waiting room was filled with grim-faced young women. Abortion isn’t a light determination, or one that anyone other than a pregnant woman should make. It’s a difficult, painful choice, but necessary for many.
I might have a bit more sympathy for the “pro-life” crowd if they weren’t so adamant in their opposition to birth control, especially for teens. Instead, these folks vehemently oppose the very measures that would lessen the need for abortion. They’re inconsistent as hell about other social issues, as well. They didn’t adopt their anti-abortion stance due to an abundance of compassion, since they tend to be pro-death penalty, pro-gun, and against low-income social programs (even though so many of them are poor, themselves). They care about the fetus, but once the fetus becomes a person, compassion comes to a screeching halt.
I’m sure there are good people in Alabama who are horrified by this new law. I know a few of them, in fact. Still, politicians don’t pass through a membrane from a different reality, as George Carlin once put it. They’re elected by the American people. Kay Ivey swept to victory in a landslide. Is this really the best we can do?
Alabama’s abortion law will be challenged in court, and repeal efforts promise to be tireless. Given the current political climate, and the new, draconian abortion laws in states like Missouri and Ohio, it’s anybody’s guess whether the repeals will succeed. Meanwhile, I can’t help but think that Neil Young was right about Alabama and has been vindicated at last. So little has changed in 50 years, but young voters are restless. Perhaps they will rise up and change the political climate into something better. We can only hope.
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