The Alabama ship of state is a Triumph of governance.
Triumph with a capital “T,” as in the Carnival Triumph that became disabled Feb. 10, stranding its passengers for days. And then, when it finally arrived in Mobile Bay, the ship broke from its moorings and collided with a cargo vessel.
The passengers on the ailing ship Alabama were stranded the same week as the cruise ship, when the Legislature went into session.
Since then, Alabamians — like Triumph passengers — have had no choice but to hold their noses and pray for the journey to end.
The latest collision takes place in the choppy waters of reproductive rights.
The Legislature passed, and the governor plans to sign, a law designed to put abortion clinics out of business. It’s disturbing not so much because it opposes abortions — many Alabamians do — but because it seeks to unravel a constitutional right women have had since 1974. It does so in the bluntest possible way. The normal questions that come up with the abortion issue — does it prevent abortion in cases of rape or incest, does it prevent an abortion when the life of the mother is at risk — are irrelevant. By making the cost of operating the clinics so high they cannot remain solvent, it eliminates the constitutional right by removing the option.
As pro-life Sen. Harri Anne Smith, I-Slocomb, said to her colleagues, “You are not telling your constituents the real truth — that you are trying to close these clinics so there will be no abortions in Alabama.”
For low-income women, the law means the remaining choice is hideous do-it-yourself methods. For women of means, a trip to a well-regulated clinic in another state will suffice.
Even as it removes the option of abortion for poor women, the Legislature is doing its best to increase the number of unwanted pregnancies.
The state House has passed, and the Senate is expected to pass, a bill that allows small businesses to opt out of contraceptive coverage for their employees. High-paid employees will be able to afford birth-control pills — whether to prevent pregnancy or stop acne or normalize menstrual cycles — but low-paid employees will struggle to do so. The obvious result will be more unintended pregnancies.
Third-world countries have figured out the best way to prevent abortions is to increase access to contraception. It’s an equation that seems elusive to the navigators in Montgomery.
The combined result of these laws, of course, will be more children born to women without the money to care for them. If this is in fact the goal of the bills, the state should be looking for ways to assist in their care.
Far from it. Not included in the incredible volume of legislation spewing from Montgomery is an expansion of Medicaid. The expansion would be fully funded by the federal government for three years and, if the state elected to continue it, at 90 percent thereafter. It would improve pre-natal care and infant care and give working mothers options for breast-feeding their children.
Is the state at least seeking to educate these children, so they have a chance at the income mobility that eluded their parents? No. The Alabama Accountability Act will drain about $55 million from the Education Trust Fund, according to legislators, exactly the price of providing tax credits to families whose children already are enrolled in private schools. The noble justification given for the law — to help students transfer from failing public schools to private schools — was proved false when the budget estimates came out.
The Alabama Triumph is headed on a course that will increase the number of unwanted pregnancies among poor women, prevent them from ending the pregnancies and prevent them from providing health care or opportunity for their children once born.
By comparison, the journey of the Carnival Triumph looks like a delightful cruise.