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Opinion | The war on Alabama women continues

It’s not enough, apparently, that the state has inserted itself between women and doctors. It also wants to keep them perpetually afraid and confused.

(STOCK)

Steve Marshall was lying. 

There’s really no other way to put it. Either he was lying then or he was lying now, but either way, Steve Marshall, the attorney general of Alabama, was definitely lying when he told everyone that women couldn’t be arrested in Alabama for undergoing an abortion. 

Not for the procedure. Not for taking the medication. 

“This is not a criminal offense against the mother,” Marshall said in July, during a round of interviews with TV stations all across Alabama. “But in fact would be against that provider, who either performed the abortion or was prescribing the medication.” 

Not a criminal offense against the mother. 

That was a big talking point back then – just after rightwing justices on the Supreme Court tossed aside precedent and their own promises under oath during confirmation to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Women were (and still are) outraged that the government could force them to carry a pregnancy to term – even one in which they were a victim of rape or incest. 

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I mean, if you’re a man, just try imagining that. Someone overpowers you, violates you in the worst way possible and your attempts to rid yourself of the fertilized egg that resulted from that felony assault is now itself a felony assault in Alabama. 

Women were rightfully horrified. 

But wait, Steve Marshall (and many other Republicans) said. That’s not true. No one would dare arrest those poor women. Alabama (and other red states with barbaric anti-abortion laws) was not targeting women, not seeking to arrest mothers. What sort of monsters did we think they were? 

Well, exactly the kind they’ve apparently turned out to be. 

Because last week, as he seeks to beef up his ultra-conservative street cred in preparation for whatever higher office he plans to seek, Marshall conducted an interview with a rightwing propaganda website and explained that women actually could be prosecuted under Alabama law – just under a different law. One intended – however misguided it might be – to protect unborn children from the use of illegal drugs that often result in birth defects and death. 

That’s right, in the wake of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determining recently that regular pharmacies could now carry two of the most commonly used abortion medications – and with the Justice Department ruling that the medications could be delivered by mail – Marshall is seeking new ways to target women and scare the hell out of already scared people. 

The idea drew a sharp rebuke from state Democrats. 

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Former Alabama Democratic Party chairman and state Rep. Chris England, who is a defense attorney, took to Twitter to call Marshall’s plans “bullshit.” 

“C’mon man. Steve Marshall cannot prosecute a woman for chemical endangerment for taking a lawfully prescribed medication. Just read the law,” England wrote, and followed with a screen shot of the law. 

He went on to say: “This law was never intended to cover abortions. All of the prosecutions for chemical endangerments come from taking ILLEGAL drugs or taking controlled substances for which you do not have a prescription. It takes some extremely tortured logic to even get to this point.” 

But then, ambiguity and fear tactics appear to be part of the plan here. And leaving women in a state of confusion and fear, mostly in the interest of furthering political careers and bending to extremist rhetoric, is just an acceptable byproduct for folks like Marshall. 

None of this has ever, ever, ever been about saving lives, helping mothers, rescuing at-risk children or improving the lives of anyone. It’s been about politics. 

That’s why we passed this absurd law that almost everyone hates, including a whole boatload of conservatives. (That’s right, polling shows that Alabama’s abortion ban, even among Republican voters, is viewed negatively. And that an overwhelming majority of voters want, at the very least, exceptions for rape and incest, and most also want an extended period in which all abortions are legal – the period in which medications are effective.)

But it’s a winner among hard-line conservatives. And that’s the group of voters you need if you plan to win a tough Republican primary in Alabama. Doesn’t matter that you’re harming good people. Doesn’t matter that women, and their basic health, are used as meaningless pawns in a political fight. 

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“It’s no accident that laws criminalizing women for managing their own health – or supporting other women in understanding and accessing the available resources – are unclear,” said ADP vice-chairwoman Tabitha Isner. “When the rules keep changing and the ground keeps shifting, women are left in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety, which is precisely what was intended.”

That certainly seems to be the case. 

Because this isn’t the first time that Marshall has tried to be creative in arresting women – or those who assist women – in seeking safe, legal abortions. In an interview shortly after the Roe decision, he said that his office planned to crack down on organizations that were helping women obtain abortion appointments in other states. 

To do so, Marshall said during the interview, his office would seek to use Alabama’s “accessory” laws, which allow prosecutors to charge people who assist in the commission of crimes. Attorneys, and even one judge, that I spoke with basically laughed at the idea, as they tried to imagine any judge allowing a case to go forward in which a legal activity in another state was in question. 

“So if I drive my wife to gamble in Tunica, can they arrest me as an accessory?” one attorney asked. 

But while legal experts laughed at the absurdity, the comments from Marshall drew the desired response from women’s health care advocates. They were scared to death. 

Mia Raven, who operates a women’s clinic in Montgomery, said she had started consulting an attorney on everything and had drastically reduced the information and assistance she provided to women seeking abortions. 

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So, that’s where we are now – in a place where politics and ambition out-drive health and safety, and scared women, including those who have been the victims of violent crimes, are nothing more than pawns to be toyed with. 

Seems like we could do better than this.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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