Atrocities like the Alabama abortion bill proudly signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey on May 16 are some of the reasons why I’m an atheist and a humanist. Barefoot, pregnant, and bombed back to the Stone Age continues to be the clarion call for dominionist lawmakers who are bound and determined to hijack women’s rights.
It was no surprise that twenty-five Republican white men in the Alabama state legislature were the linchpin for passing the most draconian anti-abortion bill in the nation. (One of whom is Dr. Larry Stutts, a freshman senator and OB-GYN who was dubbed Alabama’s 2015 “Scumbag of the Year” for seeking to repeal a law named after a patient who died in his own care shortly after giving birth.) These are the same kind of men who queue in front of abortion clinics to hound and demonize pregnant women. They are the same kind who lock and load at the mere mention of “abortionists” and think chastity belts are long overdue for a revival. The same kind who howl, piss, and moan about their “God and country” and foment Christian fascism based on a deeply misogynist fear of women’s bodies, sexuality, and reproductive autonomy. They are also the same kind of men whose privileged white families systematically benefit from Black, Latinx, and Indigenous peoples’ poverty, segregation, and criminalization by gutting social welfare funding and anything that supposedly “reeks” of wealth redistribution.
As it stands, the Alabama bill has been framed as one of the most potent threats to Roe v. Wade. It’s been accompanied by various legislative attempts to strip women of their reproductive rights in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Many of these efforts ban abortion after six weeks and each has been called a “heartbeat bill” by proponents and the public at large. But this name is a misnomer, and a dangerous one at that. A fetus doesn’t have a heart at six weeks. Rather, there’s tissue called the “fetal pole”—a thickening of the yolk sac that holds an embryo at six weeks—that exhibits some cardiac activity. It isn’t a heart, and it isn’t a heartbeat. This is a critical distinction in the fight to resist and overturn these destructive policies. The politicians and lobbyists behind these bills are simply pandering to those who believe abortion is “murder” and thus seek to promote dangerous notions of “fetal personhood.”
These bills should be also be viewed as a bellwether of economic injustice. Far too often, the focus on abortion rights, rather than on reproductive justice, doesn’t adequately address abortion as a powerful force for women’s economic liberation.
As other abortion rights advocates have pointed out, these bills are most prevalent in states that have some of the worst health and poverty indices for women of color and children in the nation. Georgia has the second highest black maternal mortality rate in the country (according to the Centers for Disease Control, black women in the state died at a rate over three times as high as white women during childbirth). Alabama ranks forty-ninth in infant outcomes, a compilation of poor scores in infant mortality, low birthweight, neonatal mortality, and preterm birth. Poor and rural women consistently struggle to find adequate maternal care providers in these states, further belying the claim that laws outlawing abortion “protect” children. Alabama also has the sixth-highest poverty rate in the United States with over 17 percent of Alabamians living below the federal poverty line. Some 250,000 Alabama children live below the poverty line and 22.5 percent of the state’s children are food insecure, well over the national average of 17.5 percent. Predominantly African-American counties in Alabama have the highest poverty rates in the state.
Despite all their claims of Christian charity, issues of poverty, child care, and social welfare have never been of concern to the theocrats of the religious right who passed these laws on the backs of women of color.
The South’s and Midwest’s anti-choice assault fundamentally undermines women’s right to self-determination by jeopardizing their earning potential, job mobility, and ability to access child care. Nationwide, communities of color disproportionately rely on family planning providers like Planned Parenthood for counseling, screenings, contraception, and abortion care. The closure of family planning clinics across the South and Midwest has forced women to travel hundreds of miles for care—further endangering their lives, families, and incomes.
The Alabama bill stipulates that doctors who perform abortions could be charged with up to ninety-nine years in prison, a provision that criminalizes healthcare practitioners and lays the foundation for a dangerous pre-Roe underground abortion economy. The bill’s prohibition on abortions for rape and incest victims would also heavily impact Black and Indigenous sexual assault victims (who have some of the highest rates of sexual assault and rape in the US), condemning them to relive the trauma of their assault through forced pregnancy and government invasion—a prospect that hearkens back to the sexual terrorism of slavery and colonial occupation of Native lands.
The white fundamentalist Christian stranglehold on Southern and Midwestern legislatures has proven to be a national cancer that further exposes the dangerous lie of a God-based, biblical morality. The Alabama bill is yet another wake-up call for why theocracy, and all its amoral patriarchs, must be aborted.