The nation’s most restrictive anti-abortion bill is close to being passed in Alabama. Were it not for a shouting match on the state’s Senate floor May 9 that tabled a vote until next week, Alabama’s “Human Life Protection Act,” a bill that would make performing an abortion a felony, would be on its way to the governor for signature. The bill compares the number of aborted fetuses to those who died in the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and Chinese purges. Although it has little chance of holding up in court, anti-choice activists hope to see it (or a similar “heartbeat bill”) land in front of the Supreme Court and challenge Roe v. Wade.
Alabama’s law would be more extreme that Georgia’s “fetal heartbeat” bill signed on May 6 by Gov. Brian Kemp, which outlaws abortion after around six weeks.
A wave of restrictive bills have been introduced across the country as anti-abortion conservatives sense an opening in the rightward tilt in the Supreme Court, but none of them are as draconian as Alabama’s.
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Last week, conservatives from across the country clutched their pearls when word got out that an Alabama lawmaker had spoken truth to the cloud of hypocrisy surrounding the state’s anti-choice bill.
“Some kids are unwanted. So you kill them now or you kill them later,” Rep. John Rogers, a Birmingham Democrat, said on Alabama’s House floor. “You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair or incarcerate them in prison.”
Rep. Rogers struck a nerve, but he is right on about the pungent stench of hypocrisy wafting from Republican politicos. Abortion is political honey to evangelical and social conservative voters in Alabama, whose seeming ignorance of the social ills around them is fed by a feverish, myopic opposition to a person’s right to choose.
In truth, abortion has long been a defining issue that garners far more political attention, energy and effort than other issues — especially in a state like Alabama, where the glaring crisis of socioeconomic inequity is crying out for political action.
Children born in Alabama face a poverty rate of 17.2 percent. The state consistently ranks in the top 10 most impoverished states in the country. Studies rank Alabama worst in the country for infant mortality and fourth-highest for heart disease deaths. In 2016, the city of Gadsden, east of Birmingham, had the lowest life expectancy in the United States, according to report from Alabama Public Radio detailing the state’s health care crisis.
Among the state’s children, 22.5 percent are food insecure, yet these same Republican leaders in the state’s legislature are looking to pass a bill that would force food stamp recipients to pass drug tests.
If a child isn’t lucky enough to be born into a wealthy or middle-class community, then it’s likely they won’t receive a good public school education.
Public schools in the wealthy Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook spend more than $13,000 per student. But Autauga County, barely 60 miles down the road from Mountain Brook, can only afford to spend around $8,000 per student, according the Alabama State Department of Education.
A study from Augenblick, Palaich and Associates determined Alabama’s system of funding K-12 public education to be “most certainly inequitable” primarily because of the state’s regressive funding mechanism. Alabama’s public school formula provides a per-student allocation to each school district as if every child had the same need. That leaves economically challenged districts scrambling to make up the shortfalls.
Where there is poverty, crime often festers — and in gun-loving Alabama, that gets deadly. In 2017 there were 404 murders in a state of just over 4 million. Compare that to New York City, a city of more than 8 million, which only saw 292 homicides that same year. Alabama was ranked as the eighth-most dangerous state in the U.S., according to 24/7 Wall Street.
If Alabama were a country, it would have the fifth-highest incarceration rate in the world, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Alabama’s prison system is already at 182 percent capacity. A recent Department of Justice report said Alabama prisons violate the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. Lastly, the state prison system has a homicide rate 600 percent higher than the national average.
Although African Americans make up only 26 percent of the state’s population, they represent 54 percent of the state’s total incarcerated population, according to Prison Policy Initiative.
While Rep. Rogers, who is Black, may have offended a lot of people with his talk about the state’s sanctioned murders, the fact is, Alabama doesn’t flinch when it comes to using the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Alabama ranks seventh in the U.S. in the number of people put to death by the state since 1976.
So when Republicans express outrage about an Alabama lawmaker’s language, and the president’s son sends out sanctimonious tweets declaring that, “Every Democrat running for President needs to be asked where they stand on this,” hopefully Democrats won’t take the bait. Instead, we must call out Republican hypocrisy for what it is — a cheap, shrill and frustrating distraction.
That we are at a point in any state where abortion could soon be a felony is a chilling moment for the U.S. Alabama serves as a red alert that in Donald Trump’s America, a person’s right to choose is under serious threat. But the women and children who would suffer most if it is signed into law would be — as is often the case — Alabama’s poorest.