Sweet Home Alabama


WORDS: Punk Food Bandita

There is so many things to get angry about in the news these days that it is easy to become a bit desensitised. 

But once in a while you read something that makes you so earth shatteringly furious that you want to burn the whole world down. I’m tired of being civil. I’m tired of being told I must politely debate people who would bring death and misery and enslavement on us all. Because this is where that is starting to leave us:

I’ve been following the situation in Alabama for a while. For those not up to speed, last Wednesday House Bill 314 was passed in the state which, if implemented, will effectively ban most abortion, the only apparent exceptions being if a woman’s health is in serious danger. Any doctor found performing the procedure can be jailed for 99+ years.  The bill was voted for 25 men and then signed by a female governor. It makes no exceptions for rape or incest and no exceptions for age. Feminists and children’s rights activists have already been working hard for years to fight backward marriage and reproduction laws which allows children to be wed to grown adults. 

One was Sherry Johnson, an activist who was married off to her rapist aged 11 after he made her pregnant. Sherry lived in Florida, which until last year didn’t have a minimum marriage age. After she was raped and made pregnant by a man from her church, child welfare authorities began to investigate. Rather than face scandal and to protect the rapist from arrest, her family and the church conspired to have her married to him, where she lost the rest of her childhood and went on to have 9 children in total. Until the new law was passed, minors usually needed to be at least 16 in order to get married, however legal permission was granted to marry at any age if the child was pregnant. In fact it it has only been since 2016 that 13 states actually legislated a minimum marriage age when previously there had been none.

The new bill will puts children like Sherry even more at risk, as well as the children who will be born to them. Alabama was one of the states ranking highest for child marriage, with children being brought in from out of state until the law was changed two years ago and the minimum age was set at 16. There is nothing in the actions of these people that convinces me they wouldn’t lower the minimum age again, they opposed it strongly enough in 2017. In Alabama, you can’t adopt a dog until you are 18, but the state will force an abused 12 year old girl to carry a child to term.

Everyone’s favourite batshit televangelist, Pat Robertson, said he thought the Alabama bill had gone to far. Pat “gays are giving people AIDS with razor blade handshakes” Robertson who thinks screaming at actual hurricanes will make them go away. If Pat Robertson thinks your brand of Christian conservatism is a bit much, then you probably think dinosaur fossils were Jesus’ art homework and have a stockpile of Kool-aid in your rapture backpack.

If this didn’t all sound horrifying enough, Alabama has another nasty trick up its sleeve- a  worrying bill also passed last week that hasn’t been talked about as much. House Bill 544, brought to us by Re. Dickie Drake. Yes, that’s his real name. The bill, if passed, will make falsely reporting rape or sexual assault a class C felony punishable by 10 years. Doesn’t seem bad, right? False accusations of that nature absolutely ruin lives and of course we should back this. Here’s the thing though; Making a false allegation was already illegal, as it absolutely should be. But the bill also has a clause that states if an accused rapist is found not guilty, the accuser must pay their legal costs. Given the extremely low prosecution rate for sexual offences in the state, it is likely that even less victims will come forward. Not only that, it is unclear if someone found not guilty at court for a sexual offence will automatically legally deem their accuser as a liar, making them a felon. With many sex offenders coming from money and power with the legal means to ensure they would never be found guilty of any accusation, it seems that women who are pregnant through rape will not only be forced to have their rapists child, but any victim of sexual abuse could now face potential jail and financial ruin if they try to get justice in court.

Of course such legislation will always be steeped in the highest level of misogyny and hypocrisy. In 2017 Tim Murphy, a pro-life Republican who co-sponsored an abortion bill resigned after it was revealed that he asked the woman he was having an affair with to have a termination. For we know that the mistresses and daughters of statesmen will always have access to abortion. We also know that this legislation is not a ban on abortion, only safe abortion, because banning it has not been proven to significantly lower abortion rates- whereas wider access to birth control has.

Emma Goldman, one of the most famous thinkers and agitators in the beginning of the 20th century worked as a nurse and midwife in the slums of New York. She went to jail for her advocacy of birth control . There are a few who confuse her for being anti abortion, but this isn’t quite true. She advocated birth control as a way of preventing abortion as she saw what happened to women who were forced to endure birth after birth, both the physical effects on their body as well as the economic. She also wrote how she once nursed a young woman who died in terror and agony after accessing a backstreet abortion. Goldman also mentored a woman named Margaret Sandor, the birth control pioneer who founded the organisation that became Planned Parenthood, which the Trump administration recently withdrew millions of dollars worth of funding from, despite none of the federal funding that the organisation receives being spent on terminations, because of a provision known as the Hyde amendment which doesn’t allow it, except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s life. Backstreet abortion and an increase of sexually transmitted disease. This is literally what this is bringing us back to.

Even without this new attack on reproductive rights, the control that was already had over women’s bodies, often resulting in their death or incarceration  should have been cause for international outrage as it was. Most of these new laws state they will make exceptions when a woman’s life is in danger, but judging by their past form, I’m not convinced. Angela Carder, a 27 year old woman from Washington DC was 26 weeks pregnant and had cancer. She was forced to undergo a Caesarian section by the George Washington University Medical Centre in a futile attempt to save her unborn child, despite the risk it was advised she would face and the low chances of survival rate for her child. While heavily medicated she was heard to say “I don’t want it” when she heard they were going to give her surgery. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy was seen to be her best chance and this is what she wanted. Her family and husband also didn’t want her to have the procedure as they knew the risks to her and what her wishes were. Despite this, it went ahead. The baby lived for only 2 hours, followed by Angela two days later. She never received the cancer treatment she asked them for. This was in 1990. We thought lessons had been learned and procedures reviewed so this would not happen again, but this will become a common story once again.

On top of this, American women, particularly women of colour and those from poor backgrounds who experience miscarriage or stillbirth seem to be automatically treated as criminals with little to no evidence of wrongdoing. A 28 year old woman from Salt Lake City in Utah was charged with murder in 2004 after one of her twins was stillborn after she refused a Caesarian section. Her reasons for this are unclear, though she refutes the accusation that she said it was because it would leave a scar, given that her two previous children had been born the same way. One Louisiana woman was denied an abortion despite her frailty due to being on the waiting list for a heart transplant, and had to be transferred to a hospital in Texas paid for by abortion rights advocates because the hospital in her state required the risk of death from continuing her pregnancy to be more than 50%. In 2007, a 16 year old from Mississippi was charged with ‘depraved heart murder’ after a stillbirth following accusations that she used drugs. A byproduct of cocaine had been found in the baby’s system, but no actual trace of the drug. It wasn’t until 2014 that the charges were dismissed when experts testified the umbilical chord around the child’s neck was the most likely cause of death. Last year, another young woman also from Mississippi is facing the same charge after her child was stillborn. The attitude the authorities give to women following what will be one of the worst experiences of their life is to assume culpability and prove innocent later, sometimes after they have already been jailed.

Other states are starting to following Alabamas lead and it isn’t hard to guess who is involved: Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Utah, Missouri. Ohio is trying to introduce a bill that includes a procedure to move the fertilised embryo in an ectopic pregnancy from the Fallopian tube to the uterus despite the fact that this isn’t even fucking medically possible.

It doesn’t matter even if these bills fail to be passed once they are challenged in court, the fact that so many states have made a moved to introduce the ‘heartbeat bills’- named for the emotive responses they evoke rather than medical accuracy- is no coincidence. It indicates a calculated attack by puritan minds on women’s bodies that is currently mounting in the US right now.

But lets not pretend that America is the only part of the western world  where the lack of separation of church and state blights the lives of women, or mistake thinking you are safe from this if you are here in the UK. Last year following a referendum, Ireland permitted access to a termination for the first time, however many forget that this does not include those in Northern Ireland. Unlike in Alabama where it will just be the doctors who face criminal charges, pregnant women can and do face jail for accessing an abortion as can any advocate seen to be helping them. Though part of the UK, the Abortion Act 1967 has never extended to there, and because now Theresa May relies on the DUP in order to remain in power , her government has resisted moves in parliament that would enforce the law in the region.

I’ve supported women who have had a child following rape. For some, this was their choice, which there always should be. For others it was not, and the effect this has on both mother and child is devastating. Some struggled to form a bond from the very beginning. For others, they are the same as many new mothers, besotted and protective over their new baby. But as the child grows, particularly  a male child who starts to look more and more like their attacker, the problems can really begin, with horrific triggering and flashbacks for the mother and sometimes emotional abuse and neglect of the child. Politicians who back bills like this don’t care one thing for these children once they are born. They vote for cuts to welfare and oppose universal health care. It doesn’t matter to them that research actively proves that children born from unwanted pregnancies fare worse than their peers, as do any siblings they may have. A 10 year study at the university of California by Dr Diane Greene Foster who looked at over 200 cases where women were refused a termination due to the late stage of their pregnancy when they presented at a facility showed that the psychological and financial health of children from such pregnancies and their families suffered significantly due to the emotional and economic strains put on them. No one chooses abortion flippantly, no matter what some might try to tell you. Women who end a pregnancy are often portrayed as a young, single, sluttily dressed heathen who uses terminations as birth control. More likely it is a mother who is already struggling, making a heartbroken choice in order to still be able to feed the children she already has, or a woman or girl who has faced the vilest of crimes. No one advocates to make someone have an abortion, no matter what the circumstances of the pregnancy. No woman should be made to feel she has to terminate a much wanted pregnancy because of her economic, social or marital status. The right to have a family is not reserved for the wealthy when we have the means to take care of everyone, but neither should we be denying access to abortion to women who require it.

Activists were laughed at when they made comparisons to The Handmaids Tale. Laughter that has suddenly stopped now, bar the smirks from the people that have imposed their twisted ideals through the law courts. I mean seriously, what’s next? Are they going to set us on fire for laughing on a Sunday, dancing in the woods, or expecting foreplay? If ever there was a time for some degree of unity among anyone who doesn’t want to see every human right they have set alight, it is now.

I’m not going to say “no uterus, no opinion”. There’s plenty of women in this who would happily sabotage the choices and welfare of others based on their own self righteous dogma. Men, women and children have had marriage and pregnancies forced on them because they are poor or socially valuable, or to solve what is seen as problematic behaviour; because they are rebellious, gay, trans or disabled. I don’t care who you are. These laws, wherever in the world they are right now, and the attitudes that allow them to come to fruition will come for us all eventually. Women living in theocracies across the world have been subjected to this for generations. 

Our liberties are something brave citizens before us knit like a blanket to protect us, to keep us warm and safe from the cruelty of oppression. When anyone pulls at the yarn to unravel it, we fight over what is left of our cover instead of fighting whatever is trying to take it away. We should never have let it get this far, never let them sneak up on us like this. Never ignored the warnings. Now we need to reclaim our bodies back from those who would turn them into cages.