To Understand Alabama's Abortion Law, Look To Romania

Opinion: Access to abortion begins with women in power

Governor Kay Ivey (R) of Alabama State last week passed the most stringent abortion law in the nation, making performing abortion (unless necessary for the mother’s health) a felony in nearly all cases with no exception for cases of rape or incent. Anyone performing abortion could be punished with up to 99 years or face life imprisonment.

In 1973, in the landmark Roe v. Wade case, the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide. Alabama is not the only state to have gone against this ruling; Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected (as early as six weeks of pregnancy). And while none of the laws have taken effect, thousands of protestors marched to the Alabama capital on Sunday chanting “my body, my choice”.

Social media was abuzz with angry reactions, women sharing stories of how abortion saved their life and witty memes.  President Donald Trump, while not mentioning Alabama’s law, wrote in a tweet that he is strongly “pro-life” but favors exceptions.

“As most people know, and for those who would like to know, I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions – Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother – the same position taken by Ronald Reagan,” he wrote on twitter.

What are the long-term consequences?

So, what might be in store for the women of Alabama?

Between 1966 and 1990, the communist regime in Romania banned all forms of cotnraception and abortion. Drawing from this Real Life Test case, here are the repercussions of when a country bans abortion.

While initially, as in the case of Romania, the country will see a spike in the birth rates, in the long run that won’t be sustainable. Women will eventually find a way around the ban. They might travel to other states that allow an abortion. Those rich enough might even bribe doctors to perform one in their hometown.

The ones who really bore the brunt of the ban in Romania were the low-income women and disadvantaged groups. According to Staci Fox, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, “Banning abortion does not stop abortion. It stops safe abortion”. Abortion-rights advocated in the United States fear that women might eventually turn to home and back-alley routes for abortion, putting their lives in danger due to the unsafe procedures. In Romania, by 1989, more than 10,000 women had died from unsafe procedures.

Also, think about all the unwanted children who might be abandoned because say for example the mother, a rape victim didn’t have a choice but to give birth but in no way wanted to raise her rapist’s child. Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School asks in an interview with Foreign Policy “Does the state have the bandwidth to take care of those kids and support the families?” 

What next? Policy Recommendations

The photograph of 25 white men deciding the fate of women’s bodies is what led us here.

Do you know what your leader’s policy is in terms of protecting abortion rights? If no, why not? We can no longer rely on wishy-washy answers to real questions like these.

Political candidates must carefully address these important questions. While there is much uproar against Alabama’s unconstitutional law, what is still uncommon are concrete policy platforms addressing protections for women’s productive health!

Elizabeth Warren is one of the 3 electoral candidates out of the 24 Democrat 2020 candidates who have laid out a concrete proposal on the issue on her site.

What we need is more Federal judges committed to gender equality who are willing to back Roe V. Wade. Mike Gravel injects progressives ideas into the discussion which include passing a constitutional amendment that guarantee to all Americans personal autonomy when it comes to abortion rights, the use of contraception and gender transition

And finally as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand states “It’s time for [the] conversation to be led by the actual experts: women and doctors”.

More women needed

We need more women in the conversation, in positions of power so that they can influence policy decisions, allocate gender-specific budgets and not let a bunch of men decide the fate of millions of women!

In Alabama legislature, women hold only 22 seats out of the 140. Across Alabama, in as many as 67 counties, a culture of silence persists when it comes to women’s health. The states’ approximately 2 million women have very few options for specialized care, especially in rural areas.

In almost half of Alabama’s counties, there are no doctors who specialize in women’s health. Alabama has some of the nation’s worst figures when it comes to infant and maternal mortality.

In this sense Alabama’s health problems run deeper than just an abortion issue.


Dr. Shruti Kapoor is the founder of Sayfty. You can learn more about her work here.

This article originally appeared in Apolitical.

Images via Twitter