Alabama’s abortion ban is about keeping poor women down | Emma Brockes

A lot of good points were made about the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of Alabama’s 25 white male lawmakers who passed the anti-abortion bill in the state senate this week. It was pointed out that Republicans in favour of banning abortion are by and large against banning guns because, by their own logic, “banning things doesn’t work”.

It was observed that the “life” of a six-week-old bunch of cells is precious to these men, but the life of a child born to a mother of no means, in a state that voted to repeal Obamacare – that notional kid, not so much. And while the point was made that no one who has watched a woman struggle through labour could, in good conscience, criminalise her disinclination to do so, these arguments seemed to me bizarre, premised on the notion that the men in Alabama were acting in good faith; that they had the health of anyone but themselves in mind.

No one at this point in the US abortion debate can believe that the foetus is the focus. It’s not about the foetus, it’s about the woman. An abortion ban as radical as the one voted for in Alabama is about the elimination of women – particularly poor women – as a threat to the social order; it is a measure designed to ensure that poor people stay poor, and women stay home. Trying to shame abortion-banners for unfairness to women is like trying to shame advocates of mandatory minimum sentencing for causing the large-scale incarceration of black people. That was kind of the point.

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The term “existential threat” is used so widely these days that it has ceased to have much meaning. But this is how the law in Alabama felt – to the extent that to lose control of one’s reproductive health is to lose control of one’s life, or that a woman without means to travel will be forced to carry a baby with severe fetal abnormalities to term, or simply that the consequence of sex is once again borne by the woman – all the things that were supposed to have been banished in 1973.

It will be stuck in federal district court for years and will probably not even reach the supreme court docket. But overturning Roe v Wade is clearly the intention behind the law and it is hard not to feel so angry this week as to wonder idly: at what point does Elizabeth Warren talk about raising a militia? Incrementalists, meanwhile, will carry on chipping away at Roe, understanding that as a tactic this may be more effective than confronting it head on.

People of means who want abortions in Alabama will fly out of state, as they always have, given that the state has only three abortion clinics. For everyone else, an abortion is not only a cost investment but an emotional and imaginative one. It is hard enough, in a state such as Alabama, to get the courage up to go to an abortion clinic. But to have to travel vast distances for a frightening procedure that is illegal at home might be for many, too much. Which is of course why the bill passed. Everything about it says: stay where you are.

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Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist



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