Last week, Alabama became the latest American state to introduce a stringent anti–abortion law. On the heels of places such as Ohio, Georgia and Missouri pushing new ‘heartbeat’ abortion laws that would make abortion illegal once a heartbeat is detected (as early as six weeks), Alabama went even further. This time, a state has straight up outlawed abortion once pregnancy occurs. As much as that decision was sure to anger many Alabamans and Americans across the nation, the Republican legislature didn’t stop there. Instead, they also removed any exceptions for abortions in the cases of rape and incest. While much has of course been written on the dangers these new laws present to women across America, and much has been said about what the passing of these bills suggest about the state of affairs due south, it is somehow even worse than one might think. Alabama has tried its best to make sure of that.
To begin with, these changes will not be immediate. In some cases, they will not be enforceable, as they contradict the law of the land. But, they do loom over the rights of women and their ability to access (already often scarcely available) reproductive healthcare. Part of what is so cynical about these laws is that they are a threat to those who provide these services, and they are often used to scare women who would want to access this care into not doing so, or choosing other unsafe options. Beyond that, the depths of cynicism seemingly know no bounds, because especially in the case of Alabama’s absurd new ‘law’, it wasn’t actually designed with any desire to be a coherent law. Sponsors of the bill, and those who helped to craft its language have come out and said the main purpose of the effort is to force the hand of the Supreme Court, and to lead to the overthrow of Roe–v–Wade, the court decision which has been used to protect the right to abortion for women in America. This is why those who built the bill chose to remove exceptions for rape and incest. Despite the obvious blowback this would receive, and the impact it would have on the discourse, this choice was made precisely to be criticized, precisely to ratchet up the politicization of what is a private and medical issue, and to try to make abortion illegal across the board. So, America has once again descended into a war of values in which it will likely battle throughout what is sure to be a painfully long campaign cycle. Those who have come to rely on the sense of security and freedom provided by the right to abortion, will be forced into a fearful defensive posture, forced to consider just how bad this might get, made to relive any variety of personal trauma, just so the political points can land where they may. To see this issue used this way tells us much about the craven state of American politics.
Beyond the political and electoral ramifications, there’s the frightening possibility that this stuff may actually work. After all, these efforts have only recently been re–energized. After President Trump appointed Justice Gorsuch, the writing was on the wall. By the time he threw Brett Kavanaugh onto the court (after allegations of sexual assault), the makeup of the court had shifted, giving hope to a pro–life movement that has been seething for years, desperate for its shot to send America hurtling back into the dark ages. Now, disturbingly, the stage has been set. The court may well choose to avoid the issue altogether, but we will have to see if it feels able to ignore the noise this issue will create (as a result of the deliberately radical actions of those in places like Alabama), or if it will seize this opportunity to show itself in its new form.
It is sadly of no surprise to see these events unfold precisely how they have. After all, it would stand to reason that only those who have no problem trying to restrict or take away the right of a women to control her body would be able to go about it in this disgustingly cynical of a manner, one in which the feeling of losing that control will play out in this frightening, shadowy, looming way. This legal strategy would be impossible without the ability to have no respect for women. There should be no doubt that what looms is real, it is possible, and those who wish to see abortion made illegal sense that now is the time to put it all on the line. This is a troubling time in America, and this is the latest, profound example of a social fabric in the process of decay, a corrupted political and legal system that is willing and able to put the very bodies and spirits of those it claims to serve, directly in harm’s way. V