The Marthas know things. They talk among themselves, passing the unofficial news from house to house. Like me, they listen at doors, no doubt, and see things even with their eyes averted. I’ve heard them at it sometimes, caught whiffs of their private conversations. Stillborn, it was. Or, stabbed her with a knitting needle, right in the belly. Jealousy, it must have been, eating her up. Or, tantalizingly, It was toilet cleaner she used. Worked like a charm, though you’d think he’d of tasted it. Must’ve been that drunk; but they found her out all right.
This excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ serves as a premonition to our current predicament in 2019.
On May 14th, 2019, the exterior of the Senate Assembly was filled with people clad in red robes in protest to the Alabama abortion bill. The bill that went up against Roe vs Wade — declines the right of abortion even in cases of rape and incest.
In 1973, the US Supreme court decriminalized abortion. Justice Harry. A. Blackmun commented that abortion takes away a woman’s right to privacy citing the 14th amendment. Republicans pushed the bill with an intention to overthrow Roe vs Wade.
Alabama currently has one of the strictest abortion laws in the US, signed by Governor Kay Ivey. If it goes into effect, it would ban abortion almost entirely in the state, regardless of cases of rape, incest or even if the child suffers from congenital effects and in every stage of pregnancy. Doctors performing the procedure would be charged with Grade A Felony, which can be from 10 to 99 years of imprisonment. Any attempt on abortion would be charged with a Grade C felony.
To know the consequences of this extreme ban, we just have to take a look at Alabama’s past, back to the 19th century. The state first made abortion a felony more than 150 years ago, and other states passed similar measures later on. Before it was made illegal, the common law states abortion illegal upon the detection of fetal movement usually around the middle of a pregnancy.
A small group of doctors worked on criminalizing abortion to eliminate their competition by casting midwives as criminals. The doctors raised questions to portray concerns over the people behind abortions, their babies, and the growing migrant community to gain government support. Considering the fact that white women were having fewer children, they used this as evidence to the government to show that the immigrants and people of colour were overtaking the country. The stricter the abortion laws are, the more babies white women will be forced to have, thus balancing the population. Everyone, from the doctors to abortion clinic assistants, were ought to be punished under this law.
Sponsors of several recently passed abortion restrictions claim their goal is to give the states the right to regulate abortion as they see fit by overturning the Roe vs Wade, 1973 approved law stating to legalize abortions under certain conditions varied. But definitely, Heartbeat bills and the Alabama law are clearly contradicting the essence of Roe. They have high chances of reaching to the Supreme Court, giving the Court a chance to possibly overturn Roe.
One recent example is New York’s Reproductive Health Act, which was passed in January. Among other benefits, the law allows abortions after 24 weeks if the fetus is not feasible or if there is a risk to the patient’s health. Previously, most abortions after 24 weeks had been banned in New York.
Another recent effort was made to loosen restrictions in Virginia, where state legislators proposed a bill that would have broadened the circumstances under which someone could get an abortion in the third trimester of pregnancy. However, the bill sparked controversy when they declared that the bill would allow abortion when the patient was going into labour.
But the controversy around the bill continued when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, said in a radio interview, that if a mother was in labor,
“The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother”.
Defenders claimed this to be pure infanticide, and that America is killing babies after birth, which should be abruptly stopped.
Reproductive rights: A Choice or Necessity
Considering the brighter side, there are high chances of this getting rejected, considering the extreme restrictions, i.e., the exceptions for rape and incest, and the controversial upheavals caused.
However, there are plenty of cases involving abortion already on the way to the Supreme Court, and the Court could choose to use any one of them to challenge Roe. So even if the Alabama law or the ‘heartbeat’ bills don’t end up to the public, chances are still raw.
This leaves everyone with a question on morality. Should women be granted basic reproductive rights or not? From years long gone, patriarchy has always poked its nose around issues regarding women. From not letting them get drafted to denying them the right to birth control pills, men in power have used it to subdue women. Analyzation of the US timeline will not make the outcome of Alabama a surprise. And the series of conflicts that are bound to rise is not a surprise either. It’s a widely well-known fact that banning a practice doesn’t necessarily stop it — rather it just paves way for illegal procedures. Apart from the elite few who could just fly to another country or bribe the right people to get an abortion, this law attacks the lowermost section of the society. The women who could do nothing but resort to the dark alleyway coat hanger induced abortions. This scenario further increases the risk of physical damages added to the mental trauma of the procedure in itself. The fact that most of these women are poc, further adds to the moral dilemma.
Before Roe v. Wade, there was Jane
Founded in 1969, the Jane collective was a group of women in Chicago who provided abortions when the procedure was still illegal in much of the country. People seeking abortions could call a hotline and leave a message for “Jane,” and members of the collective would meet her, counsel her, and perform the procedure themselves at a secret apartment they called The Place.
This could make a come back if the current bills come into effect. Not only this but women or even kids of 10 and 12 attempting to coil iron hangers into their uteruses or even swallow unknown pills to eliminate the remainings of their perpetrators, hide their shame or even regain financial stability.
Pro-life or Pro-choice
In another turn of events, the number of people against the abortion ban has shown a steady increase in numbers. Women’s march conducted all over the city were just the tip of the iceberg. The anti-abortion rally has become a common sight on the streets of the United States. Organizations like Planned Parenthood and Ipas have joined hands to combat against the ban. The protest has bought together people from different walks of life from common man to politicians.
Tv show host Busy Phillips openly announced about her abortion story which became viral as the #Youknowme. Within hours, it was retweeted by millions sharing their own story. Women who have been raped abused and tormented into carrying a child when they weren’t ready for it. Most confessed to having been scared to share their experience for the fear of backlash. Which brings us to another question as to why someone should justify their action in basic health care.
“I will not authorize the spending of state resources on travel to Alabama for this training or any other purpose,” Colorado state of secretary Jena Griswold said. “This is one action that I can take in response to this egregious law against women.”
#BoycottAlbama has asked consumers to avoid anything produced in Alabama. There have been few instances in the United States where boycotting has led to major legal reforms. But this might not always be the case. In most cases, people lose interest in such movements after a period.
Senator Clyde Chambliss assured that 6 weeks is a generous time window to consider abortion. He also commented that this ensures faster justice to the victims of rape and incest. Surprisingly several of his own party members have called out the extremity of the bill. Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are among those who voiced their displeasure. Politically this may cause instability in the next elections.
Following Colorado, Maryland’s Democratic Controller Peter Franchot has proposed that his state divest its $52 billion pension fund from Alabama.
Economic pressure on government might just be the key to lead reforms against the bill.
The common ground for anti-abortion activists is ‘religion and morality’. Statistics have proven that more than 50% of Catholics believe that conception is God’s gift. The problem when pro-lifers do not foresee the complications that arise with unwanted pregnancies. Pro-lifers do not have a plan in motion once the baby is born. It’s a known fact that kids from unwanted pregnancies usually end up in foster care. This might not be a good idea as their millions already uncared and forgotten. Studies have also shown that children in the system have higher chances of choosing the nether road.
From years before, women were always seen as a property of men. Patriarchy always found ways to keep them subdued and powerless. This is reflected in the long-standing legal history. The recent bill passed the only scratch the surface of impending doom. This stands testimony to the controversial belief that women are just ‘baby-makers’. The bill takes away basic human rights.
Are we moving towards a dystopian future where an unborn fetus has more rights than a woman?
Written by Amal Humayoon and Aneesha Muthuraj
Picture source – Google Images
Graphics credit – Ansh Bhagania
Sources- www.time.com, www.vox.com, www.edition.cnn.com