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Opinion | Fact check: Alabama is not protecting its babies

It seems as if the only time our conservative politicians care about protecting children is when they say it for cheap votes.

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“Alabama will always fight to protect our babies.” 

That was the proclamation from Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, in a tweet sent to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the right for women to access necessary medical care and consult privately with their personal physicians about medical decisions affecting their bodies. 

Ivey was not alone in celebrating the anniversary. Numerous other Republican lawmakers around the state made similar statements, all of them celebrating Alabama’s dedication to protecting children. 

I’m sure that every Alabamian appreciates this level of devotion to a cause so noble and worthy as protecting children and making sure they are healthy and well cared for. And I’m certain that with this level of dedication to our babies, Alabama must be one of the best states in America to give birth, raise a family, educate children, receive pediatric care and have access to maternal care. 

So let’s dig into the numbers and rub it into all these other states’ faces. 

Let’s see, according to Kids Count, the annual study published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Alabama ranks … um … 45th? 

That can’t be right. 

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They must be scoring in reverse, where the bigger numbers mean better scores. I’ll dig into the specifics and see how the scoring went. 

The state ranks in the bottom five of all states, according to Kids Count, for low birth weight (a key indicator in infant health), child and teen deaths per capita and teen births. 

I’m starting to suspect they’re not ranking in reverse. 

Maybe the education category will be better. 

According to Kids Count, 72 percent of Alabama fourth-graders scored below proficiency in reading. And 81 percent percent of eighth-graders scored below proficiency in math. 

That’s fairly in line with rankings from the National Assessment of Education Progress, which found that Alabama’s fourth-grade scores placed it 39th in reading and 40th in math. 

But hey, that’s fourth grade. Those kids aren’t babies. Maybe actual babies are doing much better. 

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According to the Alabama Department of Health, Alabama’s infant mortality rate in 2021 was 7.6 for every 1,000 births. That puts the state in the bottom five nationally and ranks it as one of the worst places in the industrialized world to give birth. 

But what about the mothers giving birth to those babies? Surely we do a decent job caring for them, making sure those babies we’re protecting are safe up until the moment of birth, right? 

Actually, the state was the third worst in 2020, with 36.4 deaths for every 1,000 births. And the March of Dimes noted in its annual report that the state hasn’t improved. 

 That report also gave the state a big fat F for the rate of pre-term births. Having at least 11 percent pre-term births qualified a state as failing. Alabama’s rate was 13.1 percent – a staggering rate for a modern society. 

Making matters even worse, though, is that the ability to care for those malnourished, struggling babies is negatively impacted by the fact that more than half the counties in the state lack a practicing pediatrician. 

Similarly, expecting mothers also have a problem finding access to care, with 43 of the state’s 67 counties offering little to no access to maternal care from a licensed physician, according to the March of Dimes. 

Many of the access issues, numerous studies have found, could be solved or at least improved by expanding Medicaid in the state. Alabama politicians, even as they’ve located money to pay for mega-prisons that will cost more than a billion dollars each, have balked at the expansion, leaving nearly a half-million Alabamians struggling with little to no access to preventive care. That lack of care, according to studies from a variety of nonpartisan groups, has direct, negative impacts on the health and well-being of thousands of Alabama children. 

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So, I gotta say, it seems as if Alabama will not always protect its babies. 

As a matter of fact, it seems that the only time Alabama’s Republican politicians care about the well-being of babies at all is when they can use them to scare up cheap votes.

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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