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In Abortion Debate, African-American Senators Stood Tall

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Sen. Bobby Singleton speaks as debate on HB314, the near-total ban on abortion bill, is held in the senate chamber in the Alabama State House in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday May 14, 2019. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

By Linda Verin

This is an opinion column

Having witnessed the debacle at the Alabama Statehouse Tuesday I must tell you about the true heroes of the day – our African-American State Senators – Roger Smitherman, D-Birmingham; Vivian Figures, D-Mobile; Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham and Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro.  They walked into the fire, fought hard, would not retreat but could not extinguish the flames of the self-righteous 25 white male Republican senators whose pastime seems to be taking away rights from less fortunate to give more power to the fortunate.

The GOP-dominated Senate voted 25-6 to make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for the abortion provider. The only exception would be when the woman’s health is at serious risk.

Gov. Kay Ivey signed the measure into law on Wednesday.

Smitherman told a very personal, heartbreaking story about a severely disabled son he and his wife Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Carole Smitherman had who survived six months.  Together they made the choice to not have an abortion but as he strongly pointed out, it was their choice NOT the Alabama Legislature’s.

“We are not God to tell a 12 year-old child that if she becomes pregnant by a close relative she must carry and care for the baby.”

Smitherman had read the bill and had specific questions, questions Senator Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, who sponsored the Senate bill could not answer.

Figures recently worked on a bill with Chambliss to take parental rights away from someone convicted of rape or incest.  She asked who will care for the baby if the mother is a child herself?

She proposed three amendments, all voted down: 1) All attorney’s fees generated by this bill should be paid by those that voted in favor; 2) Medicaid should be expanded and 3) (the partisan gallery’s favorite) any man who gets a vasectomy be charged with a felony.

Coleman-Madison pointed out there are already 14 cases restricting abortion in the pipeline; there is no need for another from Alabama.  She questioned why money for Planned Parenthood was denied when it helps educate people about family planning.

“People will have abortions; you are simply making it unsafe.  This bill is about control, not life.  Is it not a sin to bring a child into the world that will not be cared for?  Will you house them in youth homes, foster homes, eventually prisons?”

Coleman-Madison proposed an amendment — prenatal and medical care for the child must be provided until age 13; failed.

She had this exchange with Chambliss:

Coleman-Madison:  This is my body.

Chambliss:  It’s God’s child.

Coleman-Madison:  Who did God give the child to?

Chambliss:  Woman.

Coleman-Madison:  Then . . .Why are you putting yourself in God’s shoes?  Why do you think you’re smarter?  This bill is about control.  You are telling your wives, daughters, granddaughters you don’t value them.  No matter their education, their voice does not matter. We do not trust you to make the most personal decision of all.

Singleton introduced three victims of rape, one whose rapist was a coworker who stalked her.  She feared if she had the baby the man would fight to get the child.  He begged the opposing Senators, at the very least, to add the exceptions for rape and incest.

“You are asking babies to have babies; if someone raped my young daughter I’m not sure I could deal with it but the idea that she would need to carry that baby . . .  I don’t stand here because news cameras are rolling but for voiceless women.  Not one law regulates a man’s body.  With this law a doctor gets up to 99 years for performing an abortion; a rapist up to 10 years.  You are racing up the hill to be the first to challenge Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court; this is not what is in your heart.”

Five Republicans did vote to add the amendment to preclude rape and incest from the abortion ban but 21 still voted no; it failed.

Every Democratic Senator spoke movingly about the money it would cost the state to defend this unconstitutional bill — a state that lacks the funds to provide healthcare, an adequate education, jobs with livable wages to pay for these unwanted children, money to address the opioid crisis, prisons that meet the lowest standards.

Figures pointed out that money wasted on legal defense for the last abortion bill would have paid for 50 prison guards, 267 Medicaid enrollees, countless opioid overdose kits . . .

The Republicans’ answer to every question was “God has a plan.”  Apparently at one time or another God’s plan in our “great” country was to enslave our African-American citizens, imprison people for minor crimes where they are abused and kill themselves, let children die in school shootings or poverty, let citizens die for lack of health care.

The super majority Republican legislature does not see it as their job to care for the citizens of the State of Alabama.  Georgia is already feeling the economic impact of their “heartbeat bill”; three movie production companies have said they will no longer film in the state.  Our bill is more egregious.  And exactly how is this getting government out of our lives?  How is this humane on any level?  IT IS NOT.  I didn’t want this to be partisan but there is no way it cannot be.

Maybe they should listen to the Republican they most like to quote but in this case was quoted by Coleman-Madison:

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.”  Abraham Lincoln.

Linda Verin is an advertising executive and political strategist from the Birmingham metro area.