Much as it was at the center of the Civil Rights movement, Alabama will likely be a major battleground in the national fight over abortion rights if the bill passed last week in the state House can now clear the Senate.
The debate over the legality and relatively easy availability of abortion in the United States is obviously one of the hot-button issues of our day, and has only gotten hotter in recent years. Want to ruin a family get-together? Start talking about abortion and chances are someone will be storming out of the house minutes later.
The “Human Life Protection Act” (HLPA) — as it is known — was sponsored by Terri Collins, R-Decatur, and, if passed, would give Alabama the most restrictive abortion law in the country. It would also be a law custom-designed to generate lawsuits and eventually wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court as a means of forcing the justices to take another look at their 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.
HLPA doesn’t offer much in the way of exceptions — just health and safety of the mother. It doesn’t even have an exception for pregnancies started by rape or incest. Even for many pro-lifers, the lack of those two exceptions is too hardcore. When you consider that the bill’s sponsor openly says it is aimed at starting a lawsuit, you have to wonder if those exceptions were left out for purely political reasons.
The act of abortion isn’t something I’d imagine most of us really care to think about. It is distasteful to dwell upon, and I would have to imagine in the vast majority of cases in which it is successfully accomplished, this is not a happy event. Is it a necessary event? That’s the question at the center of this entire fight.
For many the issue comes straight down to the rights of the mother versus the rights of the child. Who is more important, the person already here or the person who could be here? For absolutists there are only bad abortions or good abortions. Most of us would blanch at the thought of a young woman having to carry an incestuous child to term, or likewise, tearing a moving, kicking fetus to pieces in the womb.
Others see this fight as part of our larger cultural battles in this country. A local lawyer railing against HLPA the other day told me he was sure passage of this bill would eventually lead to “them” coming to confiscate women’s “personal massagers.” I’ve heard others say we as a country are at the same moral crossroads as when slavery was being debated in the first half of the 19th Century.
HLPA itself hits the historical low points, recounting within the bill infamous genocides over the past 100 years and comparing them to the “more than 50 million babies (who) have been aborted in the United States since the Roe decision in 1973, more than three times the number who were killed in German death camps, Chinese purges, Stalin’s gulags, Cambodian killing fields and the Rwandan genocide combined.”
Abortion will also be front and center in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race next year, as any Republican challenger is certain to be staunchly anti-abortion and incumbent Sen. Doug Jones is just as staunchly pro-choice. That will only be heightened if the backdrop for the race is HLPA beginning to wend its way through the courts.
Jones, to the chagrin of some of his supporters, seemed to go out of his way to roll in the abortion mud during his race against Roy Moore, so his positions on the matter are clearly laid out. As a pro-choice candidate who won a statewide race, Jones is probably going to be left staking out the position that HLPA just goes too far, even for Alabama.
As a realist, it’s hard to look at this bill and say it’s really a reflection of what the majority of Alabamians would want. States around us have lowered the maximum number of weeks in which a fetus can be aborted, going to a “heartbeat” rule, which makes abortion illegal after the heartbeat can be detected. Those other states also include exceptions for rape and incest, as well as protecting the life of the mother. HLPA takes the harder line of protecting the pregnancy “at any stage of development,” which would seem to mean from the moment of conception. That might leave such options as “The Morning After Pill” in question.
And while the law wouldn’t punish a woman who has an abortion, it is a Class A felony for someone to perform an abortion and a Class C felony to attempt to perform an abortion, meaning doctors could see jail time.
Alabama is currently one of 21 states that has a 20-week abortion ban, meaning the procedure can still be done upon demand up until that time. It’s generally accepted that 24 weeks is the earliest a child can be viable outside the womb, but it’s also true mothers often will begin to feel the child move as early as 15 or 16 weeks.
Personally I can understand the concept that up to a certain point, all that’s there is a collection of cells moving toward a common purpose. But once that purpose is achieved — a heartbeat, or movement — in my mind at least, life is being extinguished.
The debate over HLPA landed Alabama in national headlines for all the wrong reasons, as usual. State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, unleashed a diatribe in opposition to the bill that caught eyes and ears across the fruited plain.
“So you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair. So you kill them now or you kill them later,” Rogers bellowed.
The major difference, of course, is that someone going to the electric chair would have at least had the benefit of a trial and a debate over the value of his life before being executed. It’s fair to say those aborted fetuses don’t get that chance.
The bottom line, though, is whether HLPA is really going to effectively curb abortion in the state, or simply serve as a political vehicle for an expensive and lengthy legal fight. If so, is it really accomplishing anything of value or just making a political statement?
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