What keeps us from sharing our stories? The ones we should tell?
When it comes to the story I shared Wednesday morning with the Alabama House Health Committee regarding what would be the nation’s strongest pro-life law, it’s been fear.
Fear of being misunderstood.
Fear of future assumptions based on past mistakes.
Most of all, fear of causing my oldest daughter any embarrassment or pain.
This is her story, too.
But after long talks over the years and after recently watching the new movie “Unplanned” together, she says I must speak up. That she is proud, not embarrassed. That our story might strengthen one mother. Might help save one life.
My daughter’s maturity humbles me because her life began when I was the opposite – foolish.
I graduated college after years of overachievement that I hoped would lead to what I wanted more than anything: a successful career.
Like many driven young women, I had given almost no thought to motherhood. Maybe one day I’d get married and have a family – one day far in the future.
I moved to Virginia for my first job as a television reporter and continued a successful side hustle as a model and commercial actress. Everything was going better than I had dreamed. My life was filled with hope and anticipation.
But my life was also filled with loneliness and insecurity. With a gnawing desire to be loved and feel wanted.
I believed in abstinence until marriage, but my now-husband and I fell short. I found myself taking a pregnancy test.
My heart shattered when I saw the results. The test said someone inside me had started to live, but in a flash, it felt like everything about me had started to die.
Sometimes life requires us to fall on one side or the other of a fence we never noticed before. I was notionally pro-life, but I had not engaged the argument because I had not thought about the argument. It was a topic for someone else, someplace else.
But now, it was me, and the last thing I wanted was to be a mother.
I did not receive Planned Parenthood counseling, but I imagine they would have said everything already racing through my mind:
I was only 22-years-old — way too young.
I had everything to lose and nothing to gain.
Why should one mistake define the rest of my life?
Experts say cognitive dissonance is one of the most intolerable mental states — when we believe something is true, we’ll either act in harmony with that belief, change it or rationalize any deviation from it.
I knew the growing baby inside of me was a human being. What else could she possibly be?
There were also medical realities that overpowered rhetoric — a heartbeat that I heard at my first appointment, fingers and eyes and ears and feet I could see at my second.
I wish I could tell women in crisis pregnancies that becoming a mother is pure bliss. But it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
As my pregnancy progressed, I fell into what I can only describe as months of complete anguish, depression and despair. I left my job. I sleepwalked into a marriage that I feared was another mistake. I berated myself, constantly asking, “How could you have been so stupid?” I withdrew from everyone and thought I’d never know happiness again.
It’s hard to write those words knowing what I know now: My husband and my five precious children are my entire world. I wish I were a better writer because it’s impossible for me to adequately describe the all-consuming love I feel for them. Anything that was lost is a laughable pittance, barely worth mentioning compared to all that I’ve gained.
Looking now at my beautiful, artistic, strong, unique, nearly 14-year-old daughter, I can barely fathom how she might have been erased from existence if I’d followed our culture’s advice.
Some abortion rights supporters believe that my daughter was not a person until the moment she emerged from my body. Others believe she may have been at some point but claim we lack the knowledge of when.
It seems a nightmarish hoax that our society says that during my pregnancy, even when my daughter was clearly alive, growing, able to smile, hear music, feel pain, kick her legs and even develop to where she could survive outside of me, her fate depended solely on whether I thought she should live or die.
I think in the quiet of our souls, we know that our absurd rationalizations about a “choice” are the only way we can bear the unthinkable truth — that every day, abortion doctors inject unborn human beings with poison, crush their skulls, tear them limb from limb and vacuum them into the trash.
I went to college with Jessica Coleman, an Ohio woman who later went to prison when she confessed to stabbing her baby shortly after secretly giving birth when she was 15-years-old.
I’ll never forget watching Oprah Winfrey interview the tearful, ashamed inmate who was once my soccer teammate.
How do we make sense of our hypocrisy? If only Jessica had received an abortion that day. If only a doctor, not her, had stabbed her baby the moment before he was born. She would not have gone to prison. Oprah would have commended her for her brave choice.
It’s time to shake ourselves awake.
To Alabama’s lawmakers: It is always better for people to choose what’s right on their own. But some actions are so heinous, so deeply wrong, that we must create laws to prevent them. Pass this bill.
To anyone who calls themselves pro-life but does not give money to crisis pregnancy centers, adoption services or anything related to supporting life: You are like a Pharisee – heaping burdens on others but refusing to lift a finger yourself. Give.
To men everywhere: The instinct to protect women and children is written onto your hearts. Rise up. This is not just a woman’s issue. You have every right to fight for the life of another human being, especially ones so defenseless.
And to my sisters carrying an unplanned baby: My heart aches for you. Every life – yours and your baby’s – is valuable. Make the next right choice.
It may be the hardest thing you ever do.
But it will be the best thing you ever do.
Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at The Alabama Policy Institute. Connect with her at [email protected] and on Instagram @rachelblackmonbryars.
Opinion | On the Nov. 3 ballot, vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1
On Nov. 3, 2020, all Alabama voters should vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1. Vote no on Amendment 1 because it could allow state law changes to disenfranchise citizens whom the Legislature does not want to vote. Because Amendment 1 has no practical purpose and because it opens the door to mischief, all voters are urged to vote no.
Currently, the Alabama Constitution provides that “Every citizen of the United States…” has the right to vote in the county where the voter resides. Amendment 1 would delete the word “every” before citizen and replace it with “only a” citizen.
In Alabama, the only United States citizens who cannot vote today are most citizens who have been convicted of a felony of moral turpitude. These felonies are specifically identified in Ala. Code 17-3-30.1.
Without Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution now says who can vote: every citizen. If voters approve Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution would only identify a group who cannot vote. With Amendment 1, we, the citizens of the United States in Alabama, thus would lose the state constitutional protection of our voting rights.
In Alabama, no individual who is not a United States citizens can vote in a governmental election. So, Amendment 1 has no impact on non-citizens in Alabama.
Perhaps the purpose of Amendment 1 could be to drive voter turnout of those who mistakenly fear non-citizens can vote. The only other purpose for Amendment 1 would be allowing future Alabama state legislation to disenfranchise groups of Alabama citizens whom a majority of the legislature does not want to vote.
In 2020, the ballots in Florida and Colorado have similar amendments on the ballots. As in Alabama, Citizens Voters, Inc., claims it is responsible for putting these amendments on the ballots in those states. While Citizens Voters’ name sounds like it is a good nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), it has secret political donors. One cannot know who funds Citizen Voters and thus who is behind pushing these amendments with more than $8 million in dark money.
According to Citizen Voter’s website, the stated reason for Amendment 1 is that some cities in several other states allow non-citizens to vote. My understanding is that such measures are rare and only apply to voting for local school boards.
And why would a local government’s deciding that non-citizens can vote for local school boards be a state constitutional problem? Isn’t the good government practice to allow local control of local issues? And again, this issue does not even exist in Alabama.
The bigger question, which makes Amendment 1’s danger plain to see, is why eliminate the language protecting “every” citizen’s right to vote? For example, Amendment 1 could have proposed “Every citizen and only a citizen” instead of deleting “every” when adding “only a” citizen. Why not leave the “every” citizen language in the Alabama Constitution?
Amendment 1 could allow Alabama new state legislation to disenfranchise some Alabama citizens. Such a change would probably violate federal law. But Alabama has often had voting laws that violated federal law until a lawsuit forced the state of Alabama not to enforce the illegal state voting law.
The most recent similar law in Alabama might be 2011’s HB56, the anti-immigrant law. Both HB56 and Amendment 1 are Alabama state laws that out-of-state interests pushed on us. And HB56 has been largely blocked by federal courts after expensive lawsuits.
Alabama’s Nov. 3, 2020, ballot will have six constitutional amendments. On almost all ballots, Amendment 1 will be at the bottom right on the first page (front) of the ballot or will be at the top left on the second page (back) of the ballot.
Let’s keep in our state constitution our protection of every voters’ right to vote.
Based on Amendment 1’s having no practical benefit and its opening many opportunities for mischief, all Alabama voters are strongly urged to vote “no” on Amendment 1.
Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution
The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.
A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.
The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.
In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.
While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.
Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.
Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.
On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.
Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color
The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.
This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.
Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.
These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.
We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.
Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.
In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.
We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.
In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.
Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.
Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”
Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.
Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing
The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.
Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.
To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.
Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.
There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.
The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.
State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.
We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.
In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.
The state is depending on it.