This week, a near-total ban on abortion was signed into state law in Alabama, making it the most restrictive abortion bill in the country.
The law makes it illegal for a woman to have an abortion in the state – with the exception of when the mother’s life is at risk – while also ensuring doctors could be imprisoned for 99 years for performing the procedure. It is a disturbing trend in US lawmaking at present, with the state of Missouri following suit on Friday with an eight-week abortion ban.
As reported by The Guardian, doctors in Missouri face five to 15 years in prison for performing an abortion after eight weeks, women would not face criminal penalties for terminating their pregnancies, however.
Further limiting womens’ control over their own bodies, the law in Alabama – which was voted in by 25 men, as a side note – serves to remind us that, while women have to live in their bodies day after day, not all can actually have a say in what they do with them.
First, let me explain what such a restrictive and outdated law actually means for women living in Alabama. The law, when it comes into force, in simple terms, means women are not legally permitted to have an abortion unless their life is at risk.
Regardless of whether the woman (or girl) has been raped or is a victim of incest.
The law, as per CBS News, reclassifies abortion as a Class A felony – putting it in the same league as murder, rape, arson, and first-degree domestic violence.
Let that sink in for a moment: a woman who aborts a baby conceived while she was raped would ultimately receive the same sentence (a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 99) – or even a more severe sentence – as the man who raped her.
This law, which politicians claim is to protect the right of the fetus to thrive and be born, is actually nothing of the sort. If it was to protect life in this way, the lawmakers in question would support comprehensive sex education in order to decrease the likelihood of abortions.
And yet they don’t. As per Al.com, sex education is not a requirement in Alabama schools. As for the schools that do teach it, they’re required to emphasise abstinence, but can include information about different methods of contraception.
Despite this fool-proof abstinence-emphasised curriculum, Alabama has some of the highest rates of STIs and teen pregnancy in the country. To make matters worse, teenage girls and young women who get pregnant because they’re uneducated on the matter will now be punished for it.
Instead of seeing a doctor and getting a medical procedure which would then terminate their pregnancy, these terrified, unprepared, and helpless girls will now be expected by law to carry a baby for nine months. A baby which they never wanted and don’t have the means to look after.
Dr. Leana Wen, President of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund said in a statement provided to UNILAD:
In a state that has some of the worst health outcomes for women in the nation – such as the highest rate of cervical cancer – Alabama is putting women’s lives at an even greater risk.
Politicians who say they value life should advocate for policies to solve the public health crises that are killing women, not dismantle what little access to health care Alabamians have left.
With a record number of extreme bans on abortion and Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, our fundamental right to health care is under assault like never before.
We will do whatever it takes to stop this dangerous bill so that patients can continue to access the care they need. We are in for the fight of our lives, for our patients’ lives.
They’re not actually pro life. We all know that. When a black pregnant mom is shot by cops, they arent bothered. When brown babies are ripped from their mothers, and lost, completely unaccounted for, or DIE in custody, they don’t care.
They’re not pro life, they’re pro control.
— Dani Fernandez (@msdanifernandez) May 15, 2019
All of this goes a long way in showing how the law is actually just another way for men to control women. In particular, womens’ sexuality. The law allows men – in particular the white, Republican men that voted to ban abortion in Alabama – to punish women for not conforming with their own ideals of sexuality.
By making abortion illegal, these politicians are enforcing rules on a woman’s body to ensure they can’t own their sexuality, to make it impossible for women to participate in sex in a way which suits their own wants and desires.
If you take a step back and look at the politicians who voted for this bill, you’ll notice one common factor. They’re all men. Men who don’t have a uterus. Men who don’t have ovaries. Men who don’t have the capability to get pregnant. Men who have literally zero idea what it’s like to be a woman.
22 Senators voted against including an exception for rape or incest in Alabama’s new draconian abortion law.
Notice any similarities? pic.twitter.com/QNxFC1JU2u
— Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf) May 15, 2019
Yet these men are the people who have so easily been able to vote freely about womens’ bodies, as though they have the power to do so. Ultimately, they do have the power.
Men dominate the 35-seat Alabama senate; of the 27 Republicans and eight Democrats, only four are women. As reported by The Guardian, all four of those women – from the Democratic party – voted against the bill. In fact, none of the eight Democrats voted in favour of the bill.
The Republican Party were a different story though, because of its 27 members – again, all of whom are white men – 25 voted to pass the bill late on Tuesday (May 14). Two Republicans did not vote.
So how is it these people, who can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be pregnant because they never will be so, were able to push forward such a restrictive and dangerous law that will only affect women? How is that possible?
UNILAD spoke with one woman in the UK who had an abortion just last month. The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, became pregnant while taking the contraceptive mini pill. As the month went on, she had suspicions she might be pregnant and so took a pregnancy test the day after her period was due.
The woman had only been with her partner for two months and they both made an informed decision that they would like to terminate the pregnancy. After attending an abortion clinic though, when the nurse couldn’t find the pregnancy sack on the scan, the couple were told to come back in 10 days for another appointment.
Both the woman and her partner then decided to continue with the pregnancy. However, just one week later she was rushed to hospital with a suspected ectopic pregnancy. Thankfully it wasn’t, but the woman states at this point her ‘mental health started to collapse’.
She started having panic attacks, wasn’t eating and was barely sleeping. At this point, both she and her partner knew an abortion was the only option for them at this moment in time.
In the end, the woman had a surgical abortion under sedation at seven weeks pregnant, describing her surgeon and the nurses at the National Unplanned Pregnancy Advisory Service (NUPAS) as ‘amazing’.
The woman explained to UNILAD:
Now I’ve had an abortion, I know how important having that option is. My mental health would not have coped throughout nine months of pregnancy. I was a state.
I suffered a nervous breakdown last year and my mental health was not in the right place to have a baby. If I hadn’t have had the option of having an abortion, I would be in a very different place.
Abortions aren’t an easy choice for any woman to make. They’re debated, argued over, and cried about by women such as the one I spoke with.
And if this woman wasn’t legally allowed to have an abortion under the new Alabama law? Well, her story could have been so much different.
Speaking about how things might have turned out had she not been able to have an abortion, the woman explained:
If I had kept my baby, I ran the risk of taking my mental health back to a point when I was suicidal. I ran the risk of suffering with post natal depression.
What’s going on in America right now is appalling. A woman should decide what happens to her body. Period. A group of men should not decide whether or not a woman keeps or aborts a fetus. It is her body and her body alone.
As per The Guardian, one in four women in America will have an abortion at some point in her life. One in four. Now, those one in four women will have to find other means to terminate their pregnancy.
Here’s the thing: making abortion illegal won’t stop people from seeking them out. In no way will this new law prevent women from getting an abortion if they desperately want or need one.
Instead, it will just prevent them from getting a safe one. By criminalising abortion, these lawmakers are basically condemning women to unsafe, dangerous and life-threatening procedures which would previously be carried out by a qualified doctor.
Staci Fox, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates said in a statement provided to UNILAD:
Today is a dark day for women in Alabama and across this country. Banning abortion is bad enough. Imprisoning doctors for providing care goes beyond the brink. Alabama politicians will forever live in infamy for this vote and we will make sure that every woman knows who to hold accountable.
In the coming days we will be mounting the fight of our lives — we will take this to court and ensure abortion remains safe and legal. For now, Planned Parenthood’s doors are open for the many patients who need access to care.
Abortion bans aren’t just about controlling women’s bodies.
They’re about controlling women’s sexuality. Owning women.
From limiting birth control to banning comprehensive sex ed, US religious fundamentalists are working hard to outlaw sex that falls outside their theology.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 16, 2019
It needs to be noted such restrictive laws exist in countries other than America. In fact, they exist way closer to home. In Northern Ireland, the UK’s Abortion Act 1967 – which allows for abortions up to 24 weeks into pregnancy – was never applied.
Abortion is therefore illegal in all but exceptional medical or mental health circumstances. Again, there is no provision for terminations to be legally carried out on the grounds of rape, incest or fetal abnormality.
This near-total ban has been in place for decades, with women forced to travel to England if they want an abortion. The only other options are to buy illegal abortion pills online or continue with an unwanted pregnancy.
if you live in the U.K and are appalled by the new abortion laws in the U.S, remember that women in Northern Ireland still don’t, AND HAVE NEVER HAD access to safe and legal abortions. THE FIGHT IS STILL HAPPENING ON YOUR TURF!!!
— milkie (@milkieway_) May 15, 2019
For anyone horrified by Alabama’s proposed abortion ban, or calling it Gilead. Look closer to home! Northern Ireland does not permit abortions even in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality. The ONLY exception is endangerment to a woman’s life.
— Helen Lewis (@helenlewis) May 15, 2019
How is it in 2019 these laws are still allowed to exist? How is it that women still don’t have control over their own bodies when it matters the most?
Our politicians need to be held accountable for these horrifying and outdated laws which, to be quite honest, at this stage can only be perceived as a punishment for women. There’s simply no other explanation.
Pro-lifers can’t claim to be pro-life when they’re putting the lives of women – living, breathing people – at risk on a daily basis by refusing them access to safe, legal abortions. They just can’t.
It’s clear to see the real reason this law has been signed into state law is not to protect the right of life for the fetus, as these politicians claim. No. The real reason behind it is to limit the life of women so they conform to their own ideals.
And it’s horrifying.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).