Imagine being a 13-year-old girl who is raped by her brother then has to make the choice between having his baby, or breaking the law.
This is now the reality facing women in Alabama, U.S., after a bill passed earlier this week, makes abortion illegal in all circumstances – even incest and rape.
AFP or licensors Protests took place outside the Alabama State House as senators voted to pass the bill
Abortion rights have divided Americans for decades, with pro-life and pro-choice movements fighting over who has control over a woman’s womb.
But this latest move has sparked outcry around the world, with many appalled that the bill was created by men and that it compares women having abortions to the Holocaust.
I spoke to many women in Ireland ahead of last year’s abortion referendum who told me that having their abortion rights removed was life-changing.
The streets were full of pictures of Savita Halappanavar, who was refused a medical abortion seven years ago and died of septicaemia.
I also met Mary Flynn, now 73, who fell pregnant in her early 20s and spent two month’s wages on travelling to England by boat to have an abortion in London.
Similarly Aine O’Neill was forced to make the heartbreaking journey to England to have an abortion when she was told her baby had anencephaly and would be unlikely to survive the pregnancy.
But others I met had very different views.Law student Hazel said her close friend wouldn’t be here if abortion was legal, as his mother would have terminated him if she could. John MGuirk claimed he was against abortion because his ex never got over the emotional trauma of the procedure.
America has long been a divided nation – split on contentious issues like gun regulation, race issues and marriage equality rights.
But the battle over abortion rights could prove to be the most divisive debate of a generation.
Many women have been drawing attention to the fact that there are 35 seats in the Alabama senate. Guess how many of them are taken up by men? 31. Guess the number of senators who voted to stop women in Alabama from exercising their reproductive rights? 25 men.Despite the fact that Alabama’s governor – Kay Ivey – is a woman, this bill was created by men to keep women from being free.
www.alsenaterepublicans.com The 25 men who voted in favour of the bill
Many celebrities have been so outraged and shocked at the bill passing they’ve taken to social media to voice their opposition and share their own experiences of abortion.
Love Island star Olivia Attwood, 28, revealed she had a termination aged 20 and called it a “sensible decision.” She added: “I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be not to have had that option”.
Instagram Olivia Attwood revealed she had an abortion in light of the news from Alabama
Joining Olivia was ex-T4 presenter Jameela Jamil, who described her abortion as ‘the best decision I have ever made’.
Writing on Twitter after receiving a wave of abuse from anti-abortion campaigners, she later wrote: “Call me whatever you like. I’m not sorry about my abortion. Contraception failed me and I did what was best for my mental and physical health at the time. And I would do it again if I had to.”Actress Milla Jovovich took to Instagram to describe her experience, saying: “Abortion is a nightmare at its best. No woman wants to go through that. But we have to fight to make sure our rights are preserved to obtain a safe one if we need to.”
Rose McGowan – who has had an abortion – tweeted: “Make no mistake this is an all out war against women. We must unite. We must fight! #AbortionRights”.
The list of showbiz names outraged by the decision is endless – including Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Gigi Hadid, Cara Delevingne and Emily Ratajkowski, who posed naked to get her passionate message across.
But she was criticised by Piers Morgan, among others, who said while she was sharing the right message, she ruined it with such a “dumb self-promoting photo”.
Instagram Emily Ratajkowski posed naked to draw attention to the abortion bans in the US
Actress and late-night talkshow host Busy Philipps prompted thousands of women to start sharing their stories of abortion online after she coined the hashtag #YouKnowMe.
She tweeted: “1 in 4 women have had an abortion. Many people think they don’t know someone who has, but #youknowme”. The message sparked responses from tens of thousands of women with their own stories.
And the stats echo public sentiment.
A 2018 Gallup poll revealed that over 60 per cent of Americans want abortion services for first-trimester pregnancies to be available, and do not support Roe v Wade – the landmark 1973 court case which won some abortion rights for American women – being overturned.
And yet, the anti-abortion bills keep cropping up.
Splash News Jameela Jamil spoke out about her own experiences
So-called ‘heartbeat’ bills have been introduced in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Georgia just this year – meaning that abortion is outlawed once a doctor can detect a foetal heartbeat.
Heartbeats can now be heard as early as six weeks but most women don’t figure out that they’re pregnant until after nine weeks – three weeks too late to access abortion services.
Alabama is taking things even further, making abortion illegal at any point, in almost all circumstances and threatening any medical practitioner carrying them out with up to 99 years in prison.
And you don’t have to go all the way to America to find women in trouble.
In Northern Ireland, women have been living under stricter laws than Alabama’s for years.
Some women have been arrested there for using illegal but safe abortion pills.
Even those who don’t agree with the radical pro-choice argument – allowing women to have access to abortion at any time for any reason – can see how immoral Alabama’s new bill is.
The Alabama bill claims to be supportive of women’s rights, quoting the ‘women’s suffrage movement’ as an inspiration for the banning of abortion.
Instagram Milla Jovovich shares her own abortion story in the wake of Alabama and Georgia’s controversial laws
But here’s the hard truth – if you believe that men and women should be equal, as many Americans do, you have to support a woman’s right to ownership over her body.
Pro-life campaigners argue that women shouldn’t be allowed to have abortions because abortion involved ending the life of the fetus. Some even call it baby murder.
But rather than ‘protecting life’ as its supporters claim, it will ruin hundreds if not thousands of women and girls’ lives by forcing them to have babies they are not ready or able to look after.
One pro-life activist tried to defend the bill by tweeting that in a case of rape, it would be better to ban abortion so that the baby could be used as evidence of the crime.
The harrowing stories of women’s trauma does not seem to matter.
These bills are dangerous – but the situation could get worse.
With two new ultra-conservative Supreme Court judges at the top – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – it is more likely than ever that these state bills will be used to challenge, and overturn, Roe v Wade.
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If that happens, every woman in America could be faced with the prospect of having her reproductive rights stripped away.
That means prioritising a woman’s right to choose over the perceived rights of a foetus.
If you believe that women should be free adults, able to make their own decisions about their own lives, you have to give us access to the services that allow us to be free – and that includes abortion.