Since January 1, a wave of historical anti-abortion activism has swept conservative states across the United States. However, Alabama went even further.
On May 15, 2019, governor Kay Ivey signed the most severe anti-abortion law yet. Under HB 314, better known as the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, any doctor who performs an abortion will be charged with a felony that is punishable by up to 99 years in prison. The new law only permits abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. There is no exception for victims of rape or incest.
By contrast, the maximum sentence for rape in Alabama is 20 years—a disparity many reproductive activists have criticized on Twitter, calling into question the priorities of a state that punishes the victim of rape more harshly than the rapist.
Alabama is not alone in its war against abortion. In the four months leading up to HB 314, pro-lifers also scored victories in Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Georgia. These four states each passed stringent laws that ban abortions at six weeks, or once a heartbeat is detectable. A handful of states, including Florida, West Virginia, Louisiana, and South Carolina have introduced—but not yet passed—similar bans.
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While hostility towards abortion is not new among pro-life conservatives, the number and swiftness of these newly passed laws are exceptional. Prior to the six-week ban, activists and politicians mainly focused on the legislature to hamper abortion’s accessibility (like closely regulating hospitals and clinics). Now, however, their efforts are challenging the legality of the procedure head-on.
The states are part of a nationwide movement to enact radical abortion laws that deliberately violate constitutional rulings on abortion rights. Their aim, emboldened by the appointment of conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, is to escalate the issue to the Supreme Court, forcing a ruling that undermines, if not overturns, Roe v. Wade.
Such extreme tactics have sown division within the pro-life Republican party. Some conservatives feel the states’ ban goes too far in denying abortion even in cases of rape or incest. They cite more lenient laws in Muslim-majority countries like Saudi Arabia, where women can terminate pregnancies due to rape, incest, fetal impairment, or risk to their mental or physical health. With the enactment of the six-week ban, Alabama and other U.S. states now rank among countries like Iran, Syrian, the Palestinian Territories, and Iraq—all of which enforce the most severe abortion laws internationally.
The day after HB 314, President Trump took to Twitter to express his support of abortion in cases of rape and incest. Other prominent Republicans quickly followed suit, including Senator Romney (Utah), Senator Cotton (Arkansas), Minority Leader McCarthy (R-California), and Majority Leader McConnell (Kentucky).
Democrat presidential candidates have likewise seized this opportunity to champion reproductive rights. Within a week, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker promised voters that, if elected, they would pursue legislature to defend national abortion rights. They unanimously called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion.
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It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will hear the case or if Justice Kavanaugh leans as far right on abortion as some pro-lifers seem to have expected. Whereas his predecessor Justice Anthony Kennedy was a firm pro-choice vote, Kavanaugh’s views on abortion remain unclear. Recent developments suggest he may lean pro-choice. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court sidestepped an Illinois case that would have challenged Roe v. Wade. While there will be dozens more similar cases in the upcoming months, Justice Kavanaugh has thus far set a precedent that he will not interfere with pro-abortion decisions.
While about a quarter of states are criminalizing abortion, others are working to safeguard and expand women’s reproductive rights. These progressive states include New York, Vermont, Maine, and Nevada. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have united to sue Alabama over its draconian new law.
Forty-six years after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, the medical procedure is once again at the forefront of American politics. As pro-life policymakers across the U.S. kick their campaign into high gear, they have reignited a controversy that will influence politics well into the 2020 election, and beyond. It should be a gripping and dynamic (de)evolution to watch.
Olivia Amici is a hustler who has been writing short stories for fun since high school and editing scientific papers since moving to Concepcion, Chile, for a gap year. Before then, she paid her way through community college while working as an event coordinator and a dental assistant. Once she returns to the States, she is excited to complete her degree in biology at University of Florida. In ten years, she would like to be working as a medical research editor and own an African Gray Parrot and a house in San Diego.