The latest high-profile battle in Montgomery is not over prisons, ethics or a possible lottery, but abortion. Last week, we made national news as a shouting match erupted during a voice vote on what would be the most highly restrictive abortion bill in the nation, after some Republican lawmakers tried to remove exceptions for rape and incest. Their Democratic counterparts felt the voice vote was giving cover to Republicans, who didn’t want their name attached to said exceptions, and Democrats wanted a roll call vote.
“I know this bill is going to pass. You’re going to get your way,” Mobile’s Democratic Sen. Vivian Figures said after things calmed down. “At least treat us fairly and do it the right way. That’s all that I ask. That’s all that my Democratic colleagues ask. That’s all that women in this state ask, both Democratic and Republican women.”
The measure was tabled for a week. The debate on this is set to resume as I am writing this, but as Figures stated, even Democrats concede some form of the bill will pass, which bans abortion after the embryo is “in utero,” so essentially before most women even know they are pregnant. The big question is will it pass without a clause to allow the procedure in the case of rape or incest.
Even some of the most conservative of Republican lawmakers, of which this state has an embarrassment of riches, would most likely want to keep those exceptions in place if this bill was really aimed at setting abortion policy in this state.
But it’s not. According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, it is written for the sole purpose of causing litigation that will force the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade.
State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, told the Washington Post this week that thinking about removing those exceptions makes his stomach hurt.
“The question is, are we going to be the state that says this is OK?” he said. “Even if this is just a legal strategy, I also have a 16-year-old daughter. Would I want her to carry a baby from a rape? That’s where my stomachache comes in … that’s where folks feel real sick about this.”
It should make his stomach hurt. It should make all of our stomachs hurt.
Rape and incest are always the main “exceptions,” as they should be. But any time a woman has to make this choice, it is a gut-wrenching, horrible, life-changing decision, no matter what the situation may be. How can one very broad piece of legislation even begin to address the myriad of scenarios?
It just can’t.
This should be something a woman privately discusses with her family and her physician inside an examination room and the decision should be hers, not that of lawmakers.
What if something that wasn’t rape or incest but equally horrific happened to Sen. Ward’s daughter, or my daughter, or your daughter — wouldn’t we all want to personally determine what is best for our own children? And for ourselves? Maybe we would all make different choices based on our own beliefs, but that choice would be ours. And I’m certain it would be agonizing no matter what.
While I have always believed this should be a personal decision, not one that is legislated, I truly understand the passion on both sides. Actually, on this issue more than any of the other ones we are all constantly fighting about.
Unfortunately, it’s one of those issues where it is impossible to have a calm, rational, respectful debate and find middle ground. And, sadly, there are many lawmakers who know this (on both “sides”) and don’t really care a thing about what women may go through on this or even the unborn they claim to want to save. Nope, they have just latched onto it because it is a wedge issue that they can use to rile up their respective bases. And that truly is sickening.
When you think about some scared woman who has been through God knows what sitting in a cold examination room with bad art on the walls and 3-year-old magazines laying around, and know her fate may be determined by a stranger sitting in a State Senate office reading the latest poll numbers or comparing the latest donation totals from lobbyist groups, well, I know that really does make me ill.
With all of that said, I am a realist and have lived in the state long enough to know this bill will most likely pass in some form or fashion. And there will be many Alabamians who will applaud it. But passing it without any exceptions seems extreme even for us, and far more Draconian than necessary to achieve the ends desired by the bill’s sponsor. And regardless, it seems very likely this issue is going to end up before the Supreme Court sooner than later, no matter what happens in Alabama. We’ll see what happens then.
But as Sen. Ward asked, “Are we going to be the state that says this is okay?”
I hope not, and I hope all of our legislators will think long and hard about this until their stomachs ache too.
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