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JENEE OSTERHELDT | COMMENTARY

#StopTheBans: Lawmakers seek to criminalize abortion and risk women’s lives

Pro-choice protesters gather at Ingram Park in Birmingham, Ala., on May 19. Alabama passed a near-total abortian ban on May 14.
Pro-choice protesters gather at Ingram Park in Birmingham, Ala., on May 19. Alabama passed a near-total abortian ban on May 14. (AFP/Getty Images)

“The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah,” she sings.

Her 1-year-old son shouts, “Maaaarch,” “Ants,” and eventually, “Ah-peat.” He means repeat.

And she plays the song over and over, at least 20 times, in her kitchen while he eats and she cleans. When she leans over the sink to wash a dish, her belly touches the counter first.

She’s pregnant. She’s Christian. She’s married. And the life she has — the baby in her belly — is her choice, my friend tells me, her toddler holding onto her leg.

“This is not Christianity,” she says of the Alabama abortion ban passed last week and restrictive abortion laws across the country. “We have free will. And if they really care about life, how come so many moms of color keep dying? This is about control.”

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A CDC report released this month said that black women continue to be more than three times as likely as white women to die of pregnancy-related issues. Native American and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times as likely as white women to die of these issues. And 60 percent of pregnancy-related deaths, regardless of race, are preventable.

Why aren’t lawmakers who are pushing to restrict abortion putting in the work to save these pregnant women, pregnant trans men, and pregnant non-binary people?

These lawmakers will have the access to secure private doctors for off-the-books abortions when they need to. And there’s always a circumstance. But the people without privilege and plugs will be forced to risk their lives and carry to term or risk their lives and have an illegal abortion.

The Alabama abortion ban seeks to criminalize abortion and put doctors who perform the procedure in prison. Why not outlaw the bias, racism, brutality, and economic inequities killing moms?

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At Harvard, Jonathan Walton, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, believes the “right to life” argument for the unborn extends to immigrants, prisoners, and pregnant mothers seeking health care.

“As a Christian, I affirm the right to life; which includes access to quality health care regardless of income and those sentenced to death row,” he says. “It’s disingenuous for male leaders to fight for the rights of the unborn while showing such little concern about whether a mother can afford food and childcare.

“Until the United States privileges the health care, job security, and equal rights of women, my commitment, as a Christian, to the right to life will privilege the women I live and walk beside every day. Women should have the right to make their own moral choices about their bodies, health, and financial futures.

“We appeal to the Gospels to defend unborn babies. But when it’s time for the mother to give birth, too many women hear like Jesus’s mother, ‘There is no room at the inn.’ ”

In America, there is often no room for grace, no love, and no help for the girls, women, and pregnant people who need it. The most inhumane of these recently passed abortion laws would force a survivor of rape or incest to carry a child.

There is no exception for rape or incest in Alabama, Ohio, and Mississippi. Georgia, like Ohio and Mississippi, restricts abortion at six weeks of pregnancy — just barely after a first missed period. Many women wouldn’t even know they were pregnant by then. And there is only an exception in Georgia for rape and incest if the girl or woman has filed a police report. Missouri hopped on the banning bandwagon last week with an abortion restriction at eight weeks pregnant. While it would allow an exception for medical emergencies, there is none for rape or incest.

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Rape and incest are spiritual and wellness emergencies.

What if these new laws existed when another friend of mine was a 12-year-old survivor of rape?

She was impregnated.

She did not consent to sex.

She did not consent to a pregnancy.

But there are lawmakers who believe after someone forces himself inside of you and leaves you terrorized, your government should hold your body hostage. Is that what “pro-life” looks like?

It shouldn’t. Only the impregnated should have the power to choose to go through a pregnancy.

The abortion, she says, saved her 12-year-old life. Today, she’s single. She hasn’t had kids yet. She works in the corporate offices of a fashion brand and loves it.

“Where would I be?” she asked me, tears running down her face. “I’d have a 25-year-old? Would I even be here?”

Thinking about being forced into motherhood has her off-balance, retraumatized, and scared for the rights of pregnant people. Abortions have always happened and will continue to, illegal or not.

On Tuesday, protesters across the country will take a stand to protect human rights, to uphold Roe v. Wade, to stop abortion bans, and raise funds for abortions. It’s a #StoptheBans day of action. Find an event near you at stopabortionbans.org.

Catholics for Choice has been fighting for moral and legal sexual reproductive rights since 1973 when the advocacy group was founded and resisted the Catholic Church’s anti-abortion doctrine.

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The organization calls the flood of restrictive abortion laws extremist and anti-freedom.

“Every woman has the right to control her fertility safely and with dignity — but these laws will now be used as a weapon to strike blows against the bodies of the women who fail to fulfill their cruel conditions,” said Jon O’Brien, Catholics for Choice president.

“Most concerning, these bills attempt to legislate personhood, using faulty science to impose personal religious convictions on others. There is not one official Catholic opinion on when life begins. Throughout the Catholic tradition, Catholics have had differing beliefs about when a developing fetus becomes a person,” he said.

“There has never been any doubt, however, that our Catholic faith views a woman as a person — with rights, responsibilities, and a conscience that must guide her to make the best decision for herself and her family in light of her own circumstances and beliefs.”

The abortion bans are a storm of sexism aiming to take down reproductive rights and reverse Roe v. Wade.

These laws are not about saving the unborn, they are an attack on the living oppressed. And we all go marching down, to the ground, to get out of the rain.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and @sincerelyjenee.