America has recently been hit with a highly politicized debate involving abortion laws and women’s rights. The catalyst for this was a historic bill signed into Alabama law on May 15, which created the nation’s strictest ban on abortion and sent the U.S. into a flurry of reactions.
The shockingly strict law stunned both pro-choice and pro-life people for its lack of amendments for cases of rape and incest. Exceptions of rape and incest are common clauses in abortion legislation and are a policy that has historically garnered widespread public approval from U.S. constituencies. Despite this, the Alabama ban outlaws abortions in all cases except when the mother’s life is in danger, and it also criminalizes doctors who perform abortions for up to 90 years.
Lawmakers who spearheaded the Alabama ban along with other anti-abortion legislation in other jurisdictions have cited the overturning of Roe vs. Wade as their objective. Roe vs. Wade was the 1973 ruling that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution provides a “right to privacy.” It protects a pregnant woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
A poll by Morning Consult found that 56 percent of Americans oppose other states passing similar abortion bans as Alabama, and 45 percent of republican voters think that there should be exceptions in abortion laws for cases of rape and incest.
The debate has caused a wave of opposition from womens rights and pro-choice advocates who cite the considerable amount of research showing that abortion bans do not actually stop abortions from occurring. When abortion procedures are banned, it forces women and girls to either seek abortions in other states, or have an unsafe or illegal abortion that could put their lives at risk. Today, unsafe abortions make up 45 percent of all abortions worldwide.
A study focused on abortion restrictions across the U.S. between 2008 and 2011 showed that although many states implemented restrictions on the access to abortions, there wasn’t a correlation between abortion rates and any particular restrictions. In fact, another research report looked at Brazil — a country where abortion is almost completely illegal — and the results showed that abortion rates are often two or three times as high as they are in the U.S. Despite the research that shows how ineffective abortion bans are at preventing abortion, anti-abortion proponents continue to push for a federal ban.
The classic pro-life or pro-choice argument has divided Americans for decades and has brought up issues of bodily autonomy, women’s rights, the separation of church and state, poverty and education. Abortion remains such a loaded topic, as people from both sides of the argument are citing strong emotional reasons for their beliefs and both see themselves as morally right.
Pro-life groups have continually cited their religious beliefs and the Bible as evidence that abortion is wrong and should be outlawed. Alabama Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who was involved in the recent Alabama ban said, “I believe that if we terminate the life of an unborn child, we are putting ourselves in God’s place.”
While everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs and is absolutely allowed to believe this statement to be true, the issue is that there is a separation of church and state. This means that laws and policies can not tell others how to live their lives, what to believe, or what to do with their bodies because of the law makers religion. It is that simple.
You think abortion is morally wrong? Then don’t get one. Just because something is morally wrong to you doesn’t mean you get to put it into law and force people with different beliefs to live by yours.
Another main topic in the abortion debate is access to healthcare, education and poverty. Data shows that nearly half of all women who have abortions are living below the federal poverty line. Unwanted pregnancies hit lower income people the worst as they lack the financial capital to cope with the financial burden associated with pregnancy and child-rearing. By criminalizing abortions, women will have to seek treatments elsewhere, ultimately adding to the cost or be forced to take on another life without proper financial support.
“People of color and LGBTQ people are disproportionately likely to be low income and depend on federally-funded insurance like Medicaid,” said Angela Ferrell-Zabala, the national director of strategic partnerships at Planned Parenthood. “So it’s pretty hard to ignore the impact that these bans will have on these communities in particular”.
Alabama is also a state that does not mandate sex education, with a strong presence of support from citizens and lawmakers to teach abstinence only in regards to sexual health.
A 2014 health and wellness report published by the Alabama Department of Public Health also showed that there were approximately 5,084 births to mothers from under the age of 15 to the age of 19. In 2015, Montgomery Alabama was ranked the “most sexually diseased city in the nation.” This shows that there is a serious lack of effort to increase or fund education and healthcare, especially related to reproductive health.
It seems that if Alabama lawmakers were really interested in ending abortions, then they would start by creating comprehensive and easily accessible sexual and reproductive educational resources, as well as providing assistance or reducing the cost of contraceptives and family planning services. But they aren’t. They aren’t even engaging in these types of constructive and effective conversations and policies debates — instead, they are citing the Bible to create laws and ignoring the data.
While this issue is complex and involves a variety of interest groups, the bottom line is that women deserve autonomy over their bodies. Attempting to infringe upon our rights to choose what we do with our bodies and our lives does not end abortions, it only puts women and girls at risk and increases the vulnerability of low income communities.