Alabama is banning abortions in the case of rape and incest – and destroying countless women’s lives

Kuba Shand-Baptiste

Exactly a week after Republican governor Brian Kemp mercilessly signed away millions of people’s right to have an abortion in Georgia, Alabama has effectively joined the war against terminating pregnancies.

The restriction, the strictest in America when it comes to abortion laws, will see millions forced to carry pregnancies to term no matter the circumstance, unless it poses a direct threat to the mother’s life. Doctors too, will be affected by the law: anyone caught attempting to perform an abortion once the ban comes into effect in six months, could face up to 99 years in prison. While women will not be punished for leaving the state and accessing abortions elsewhere – unlike in Georgia – it is manifestly not fair that only those with the means and time should be able to terminate a pregnancy.

As with most moves to drastically infringe human rights, it’s all under the guise of “protection”. Protection of “the lives of the unborn”, not the bodies tasked with housing them; protection of the sanctity of what too many see as a fundamental aspect of womanhood. If you have sex and you get pregnant – if you’re raped and you get pregnant – destiny has been fulfilled: a woman’s purpose is to have babies, after all.

Out of the 25 senators who voted in favour of the bill (six Democrat senators voted against it, while one abstained) all were white cisgender men, and none would be remotely affected by the legislation. The only members of the Alabama senate who would be potentially affected, if not directly, then ideologically speaking, were the only four women it holds.

But it’s clear, at least to those who recognise the horrifying cruelty of this lurch to the extreme, that this is not about protection at all. You don’t have to do much digging to decipher why.

Though these restrictions do not solely affect women – not all women can get pregnant, some non-binary people can; not all men can’t – it’s clear that this maniacal drive to make things harder for those who can carry foetuses, is driven by a deep-seated belief that only cisgender men can be the true gatekeepers of morality and sexuality when it comes to women.

And with stricter abortion laws, comes potentially dangerous means of terminating pregnancies. According to the UN, “Unsafe abortions cause the deaths of some 47,000 women each year and a further five million suffer some form of temporary or permanent disability.”

When abortions are put under restriction, the likelihood of women opting for unsafe options soars. The World Health Organisation, for example, says that “around 7 million women are admitted to hospitals every year in developing countries, as a result of unsafe abortion”.

We haven’t even touched on what laws like these mean for people who fall pregnant as a result of rape. As the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Crime in Alabama 2015 report shows, an average of 5.4 incidents of rape are reported each day in the state, with 97 per cent of the attackers being men, men with no regard for the women they violate, or the foetuses that could be conceived as a result of that violation.

According to a 2018 study, almost 3 million women in the US have become pregnant after being raped (although statistics on how many of those are carried to full term aren’t as clear). Now, on top of the trauma of that, lawmakers have decided these women, among many others, are undeserving of the freedom to choose whether or not to go through with their pregnancies.

Thankfully, women are able to leave the county and access abortions elsewhere without

This isn’t just a US issue though. It’s a growing problem around the globe. In Ecuador, where abortion is also effectively illegal, women are being sent to prison over opting for termination. In Malta, there is a total ban on abortion, regardless of why someone wants one.

And abortion laws in Northern Ireland, no thanks to the government, still prevent women from having abortions unless (like Alabama) being pregnant threatens their life, or damages their physical and/or mental health. Nevermind whether being forced to remain pregnant in itself has a negative impact on someone’s state of mind, or whether that baby has a fatal foetal abnormality. Above pretty much all else, giving birth is king.

The abortion rights debate, while seemingly straightforward, can easily become muddied. We saw it when the presumably well-intentioned, but wildly misinformed Alyssa Milano, responded to Georgia’s impending ban with the suggestion of a “sex strike” for women.

A strike that not only ignores the fact that reproductive rights affect more than just heterosexual, cisgender women who engage in consensual sex with their partners – such as single women, trans men and sex workers – and reinforces the message that a woman's sexuality is inherently transactional.

We’ve seen this view propagated by other women such as the Virginia-based group “Feminists for Life”, who believe this to be a matter of respectability (if you don’t want the baby, why have sex?).

It’s heartwarming that so many women have come forward with their own abortion stories in response to this wave of regression, potentially life-saving too. Those voices may ring hollow in the minds of cis men who see abortion rights as their personal battle and no one else's, but they haven’t and won’t go unnoticed to those affected by this issue the most. As the challenges against Roe v Wade continue, so too must the fight against those who see no issue with signing away the rights of millions.