The cruel ironies of Alabama’s abortion ban

I have to say it: Alabama’s near total abortion ban, signed into law on May 15, is filled with cruel ironies. The law makes no exceptions for either incest or rape and considers doctors who perform abortions Class A felons to be sentenced to between 10 and 99 years in prison. By contrast, someone who commits incest is considered a Class C felon and receives a minimum sentence of one year and one day in prison. To be clear, the doctor who performs the abortion, if such an intrepid soul can be found, will spend at least 10 times longer in jail than the relative who caused the pregnancy. 

In a state that has been a busy GOP test kitchen, the law was voted for by 25 male Republican legislators, and signed by a female governor, Kay Ivey, who has backed legislation in support of guns in schools; allowing faith-based adoption agencies to refuse children to gay parents; cutting the time that death row inmates have to make appeals; and forbidding the removal or renaming of Confederate monuments. 

Although the media have been quick to note that Alabama is among a number of states using abortion restrictions in a legal gambit to challenge Roe v. Wade, among the striking features of the  abortion ban is its cruelty toward girls and women and their physicians, in the apparent service of protecting sexual predators and the life of the unborn. As one white male legislator explained the legislation, women would be able to use any “existing method” during the first week or so, as long as this method was used “before they know they are pregnant.”  In other words, if a girl or woman waits until she has skipped a menstrual period, which is the earliest signal traditionally used by females to determine conception, any method she might choose to end the pregnancy would be illegal. Any girl or woman wanting to avoid motherhood would have to use a morning after pill every time she has sex. 

I have been using the phrase “girls and women” for a reason. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network), one in nine girls under the age of 18 experiences sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.  Females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than all women to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault. Moreover, among girls 18 and under, rape is likely to involve incest. Out of the yearly 63,000 sexual abuse cases substantiated by Child Protective Services, or for which the organization found strong evidence, 80% of the perpetrators were a parent, and 6% were another relative. Ninety-three percent of all sexual predators targeting children and youth were known to their victims.

This leads to the question of how often a 12-year-old girl who has just been raped by her father, brother, uncle, or mother’s boyfriend, is likely to rush to another family member or counselor to ask what to do — and how likely this adult is to immediately give the girl a morning-after pill. Indeed, rape and incest have among the lowest reporting rates of all crimes, and data suggest that most such incidents are reported after much delay, if at all. 

Which leads to the conditions under which this 12-year-old will sustain her pregnancy and deliver the child of incest or rape, as well as how this 12-year-old, or her family, will raise the child. Perhaps the legislators imagine that the girl, barely a teenager, will simply disappear into a home run by a religious order, where in penance for “letting herself be raped,” she will do laundry and scrub floors until the baby has been born and conveniently disposed of through an adoption agency — though, of course, not to a gay couple. 

It’s no secret that concern for the life of a fetus too often goes along with little interest in ensuring opportunities for the health and education of a living child. According to the CDC, Alabama has the fifth highest infant mortality rate in the country. In 2017 it had 7.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births; only Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota fared worse. Alabama spent $9,236 per student for public schools in 2016. (For comparison, Connecticut spent $18,958, and New York spent $22,366.) Alabama has the highest rate of cervical cancer. And Alabama ranks 49th nationally in the life expectancy of its residents — just half a year higher than Bangladesh.

Gov. Kay Ivey called Alabama’s new law “a testament to the belief that every life is a sacred gift from God.” Perhaps — but only so long as that life is in the womb.


Carol Ascher, who lives in Sharon, has published seven books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as many essays and stories.