Abortion rights are at risk for women in Alabama — and are at the forefront of our minds — after the most restrictive abortion law since 1973 was passed on Tuesday night.
The Alabama State Senate approved the bill with a 25-to-6 ruling. The bill provides no exceptions for rape or incest — the only exemption is if the mother’s life is in jeopardy.
According to the New York Times, “The legislation bans abortions at every stage of pregnancy and criminalizes the procedure for doctors, who could be charged with felonies and face up to 99 years in prison. It includes an exception for cases when the mother’s life is at serious risk, but not for cases of rape or incest.”
This isn’t the first radical abortion legislation that has been passed as of late. According to USA Today, in 2019, more than a dozen states have either passed or attempted to pass stricter abortion legislation.
Four states have passed six-week abortion bans — known as “fetal heartbeat” laws.
- Georgia: Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill just last week — dubbed the “fetal heartbeat” law — banning abortion after six weeks, at which point many women don’t know they’re pregnant yet. (It is set to be enforced starting in January 2020.)
- Mississippi: Mississippi banned abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be heard (they are generally heard around six weeks)
- Kentucky: Kentucky is also implementing the fetal heartbeat law
- Iowa: Iowa also passed the fetal heartbeat law
- Ohio: Ohio introduced a new bill last month which aims to prohibit insurance coverage of abortions that occur where the mother’s life is not “endangered if the fetus were carried to term.” The bill includes exceptions, including one for a procedure that does not exist — stating that ectopic pregnancies can be moved to the uterus.
- Missouri: Missouri followed Alabama’s law with a bill aiming to ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy. It includes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Doctors would face five to 15 years in prison for violating the eight-week cutoff — women wouldn’t be prosecuted. (Missouri already had some of the strictest abortion laws in the country, as anyone seeking an abortion is subject to a 72-hour wait period, and there’s only one abortion clinic in the state.)
While Alabama’s bill is the most severe — making it the state with the most restrictive abortion laws in the country — lawmakers are open about the fact that they’re using it to bring Roe v. Wade back in front of the newly conservative majority Supreme Court.
“This bill is about challenging Roe v. Wade and protecting the lives of the unborn, because an unborn baby is a person who deserves love and protection,” said Alabama State Representative Terry Collins.
Eric Johnston, the president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, and the man who drafted Alabama’s legislature, openly said that any legislation that doesn’t directly challenge Roe v. Wade — including the fetal heartbeat laws — was a waste of time, hence the extremity of Alabama’s law.
“This bill is very simple,” said Collins. “It’s not about birth control or the morning after pill. It’s about not allowing abortion once the woman is pregnant. The entire bill was designed to overturn [Roe v. Wade] and allow states to decide what is best for them.”
Although the bill was approved, it is not effective immediately — it is expected to go into law six months from now, and challenged before then.
What does it mean for women?
According to USA Today, “43 states prohibit abortion after a certain point in the pregnancy, including Alabama’s near-total ban and four that passed heartbeat bills in 2019.” (This map provides a breakdown of state-by-state regulations.)
Although Alabama’s bill explicitly states that it exempts women from criminal liability, it targets doctors that would hypothetically be performing the abortions — making them felons facing up to 99 years of jail time. This is the same sentence as first-degree rape and that murderers face when on trial.
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The bill makes abortions impossible to get legally (except for the one instance of exemption, when the mother’s life is at risk). This would drive abortions underground — making them dangerous and inaccessible. It would also disproportionately affect low-income women. According to The Cut, “wealthy Alabamians would still be able to go out of state to receive abortions, while the poorest in the state, who are disproportionately Latino and black, would be trapped.”
Unlike Alabama’s bill, Georgia’s does criminalize women. Women who get abortions can face life in prison. Their law states that from the moment of conception, fetuses should be treated with “full legal recognition.” This means means that “the fetus is recognized as a ‘natural person’ according to state law, and anyone who harms them could be punished as they would for any other crime against a person.”
What can you do to help protect women in these states?
If you disagree with what’s happening, there are many ways you can use your voice to speak up.
Donate to reproductive rights organizations
In addition to national organizations like Planned Parenthood, there are local organizations that could use your help too.
National Network of Abortion Funds: The NNAF provides aid to women seeking abortions in 38 states.
Women Have Options: This Ohio-based organization is the state’s abortion fund, providing financial assistance and practical support to help patients afford contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion services.
The Yellowhammer Fund: This grassroots organization provides funding for anyone seeking care at one of Alabama’s three abortion clinics and will help with other barriers to access (travel, lodging, etc.) as well as able.
ACLU of Alabama: This private, non-profit, nonpartisan organization is currently working in the courts to stop HB314, intending to sue over the legislation.
ARC-Southest: This nonprofit organization provides financial assistance and practical support (rides, lodging, escorting) for those seeking reproductive care in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Planned Parenthood Southeast: This branch of Planned Parenthood provides resources for those seeking to manage their fertility, and provides support regardless of income.
Make Change On a Political Level
Voting for those who support the same issues and ideals as you do (and helping all voices be heard equally) is the best way to ensure that a state’s political leaders reflect the values of its citizens.
Help fight voter suppression: By supporting Southern Poverty Law Center‘s Voting Rights Project, you can help ensure that each state’s legislature reflects who its constituents really are.
Support candidates you agree with: When you strongly believe in the platform of a candidate, support their campaign from the very beginning. Those fighting for the same causes that you are need your help from the ground up.
Fight inequality as a whole: Poverty and inequality are problems at the root of this issue, so supporting organizations (like Equal Justice Initiative, the Alabama Center For Rural Enterprise, and Alabama Arise) who are fighting for equality is a way to work towards a better future.
Speaking out on a divisive issue is never easy, but in order to make a change, voices have to be heard. Having conversations with friends and family can help you fight for women’s rights on a day-to-day basis.
In addition, if you live in one of the states implementing strict abortion laws, call your congress members. You can find the representative for where you live here — the most powerful voices they can hear is from their own constituents.