By Christianna Silva
White, male lawmakers in Alabama voted to effectively outlaw abortion in the state on Tuesday, May 14.
According to Alabama House Bill 314, the only exception in which abortion or attempted abortion can be permitted in the state is if the pregnancy poses a “serious health risk” to the pregnant person. It makes no exceptions for victims of rape or incest, despite a slew of Democratic amendments calling for it.
All 25 legislators who voted in favor of the measure were white, male Republican senators, according to a breakdown of votes from the Guardian. Just three women cast votes on the bill, the Washington Post reported, and all amendments introduced by the state’s female senators were dismissed. (Alabama’s legislature is just 15 percent female, the sixth-lowest proportion in the country.)
While the bill will not take effect “anytime in the near future,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, its legalization means a physician could be charged with a Class A felony and face up to 99 years in prison if they perform a completed abortion for a patient.
The bill stipulates that “a woman who receives an abortion will not be held criminally culpable or civilly liable for receiving the abortion,” but such restrictions would still disproportionately affect poor women of color, according to the Guttmacher Institute. They are more likely to seek abortions and less likely to have the resources to travel out of state to obtain an abortion. Alabama's decision to restrict a doctor’s ability to perform the service would impact marginalized people’s health the most.
This glaring discrepancy couldn’t have been more obvious during the debate in the state legislature when Republican State Sen. Clyde Chambliss said the law wouldn’t affect women unless they “are known” to be pregnant, according to the Post.
“I guess that’s a typical male answer,” Democratic State Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison said. “You don’t know what you don’t know because you’ve never been pregnant. And herein is the problem: You can’t get pregnant. ... You don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant.”
That was the feeling among Democratic lawmakers in the legislature on Tuesday: People who hadn’t been pregnant and wouldn’t need an abortion were voting on a person’s right to do so.
"You don’t have to raise that child. You don’t have to carry that child. You don’t have to provide for that child,” Democratic State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures said during the debate, according to VICE News. “You don’t have to do anything for that child, but yet you want to make the decision for that woman.”
Alabama is the 16th state this year to introduce abortion restrictions, Reuters reported, but this bill is by far the strictest in the nation. It sets up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark supreme court case that recognized the constitutional right to an abortion. Some people worry that if a similar case is brought up to the current Republican-held Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade could be overturned.
Activists are fighting to make sure that doesn’t happen. The ACLU of Alabama, the National ACLU and the Planned Parenthood Foundation of America announced on Tuesday that they are filing a lawsuit to stop the ban. And progressive lawmakers in Alabama are fighting to gain the power of the legislature to ensure bills like this aren’t passed in the future.
“Now, we understand the women in this chamber are a minority,” Coleman-Madison said on the Senate floor on Tuesday, “but one of these days that’s going to change.”