Alabama’s abortion ban is an assault on reproductive freedom

Nissa Shaffi

On May 14, 25 white male legislators in Alabama decided the fate of reproductive health for millions of women in their state. This astonishingly homogeneous group supported the Human Rights Protection Act [SB 314] 25-6. Although women make up 51 percent of Alabama’s population, only 15 percent of women serve in Alabama’s state legislature. A mere three women were present for the vote.

The measure is draconian. It will prohibit abortion in all cases, even in instances of rape or incest, and will only permit the procedure in situations where the mother’s life is in danger or if the child presents a “lethal anomaly.” Physicians convicted of performing abortions could face Class A felony charges–carrying a punishment of up to 99 years. To put this into perspective, if a woman is raped and impregnated, her rapist would face less time in prison than would the provider who aborted the pregnancy.

In addition to Alabama’s extreme measure, five other states are considering so-called “Heartbeat Bills” prohibiting an abortion beyond six to eight weeks of pregnancy if a fetal cardiac activity is detected. Semantics matter because, at six weeks, a fetus technically only consists of “a group of cells with electrical activity.” This time frame is crucial because most women are not even aware that they are pregnant and therefore cannot make a timely decision.

We’ve been here before. Before Roe v Wade–the 1973 landmark case that declared the criminalization of abortion to be unconstitutional, thus securing a woman’s right to choose–200 women died annually because they could not access abortions legally.

Banning abortions will not prevent women from getting them. Indeed, shunning women and their healthcare providers only creates an environment where women must seek dangerous methods to end their pregnancies. An estimated 30,000 maternal deaths occur worldwide as a result of clandestine abortions in countries where the procedure is illegal. Restrictive abortion laws threaten reproductive freedom and endanger lives.

Statistically, abortion rates drop in countries where contraception is easily accessible and where the procedure is legal. For example, in countries like Israel and New Zealand, abortion is subsidized by the government. Additionally, creating social infrastructures that support motherhood–such as paid maternity leave and offering affordable childcare–reduce the incidence of abortion.

The National Consumers League strongly opposes punitive and cruel bills like the one in Alabama. Abortion is not a decision women enter into lightly. These are often excruciating decisions, which ultimately must be at the discretion of a woman and her doctor. These bills strip women of their agency to make safe and informed choices about their body, health, and lives. Alabama’s laws and their ilk are regressive and endanger the health of women, especially those of limited means. We call on all state legislators to recognize this fact and lift these terrible restrictions.