“If we are arguing personhood,” said Eric Johnston, the president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, “then it does not matter how a child is conceived.” Late last night Alabama passed a total abortion ban in the state after an amendment that would have made an exemption to the law in cases of rape or incest failed. (The ban does have an exemption for cases in which a woman’s life is in danger.) Johnston had helped draft the bill. If it’s signed into law and allowed to take effect, doctors who perform abortions on women at any stage of pregnancy could face 99 years in prison.
In the lead-up to the vote, Republican representative Terri Collins was even clearer, arguing that “our bill says that a baby in the womb is a person.” Collins is a cosponsor of the bill, which she hopes will help overturn Roe v. Wade. In Alabama, as in Georgia and Ohio, which both passed extreme abortion bills earlier this month, a clump of cells now has more rights than an adult woman—or, as CBS News pointed out, a sixth grader. Under the Ohio law, for example, a pregnant 11-year-old rape victim would no longer be allowed to have an abortion.
Yes, ICYMI: Republicans want to overturn Roe. They want to take away the right to have a safe abortion. They want to send us right back to America pre-1973. But it’s not just about Roe. Under Donald Trump, a man who’s had a lot of sexual relationships with a lot of women who aren’t his wife, the GOP has declared an open war on women’s reproductive health. It seems we can’t reach the end of a week without a new crisis, some gruesome legislative nightmare explicitly crafted to rein in our rights. It’s 2019, and Republicans have an unquenchable thirst for the Handmaid’s Tale agenda.
Lately the crusade has taken the form of “heartbeat bills,” which ban abortion before most women even know they’re pregnant, at around six weeks. (That’s a little after one late period, although presumably most of the men who wrote these bills are unfamiliar with how menstruation works.) Other efforts have attempted to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides lifesaving mammograms and Pap smears to millions of people, using a sneaky Title X “gag rule.” But inevitably, there’s more to come. The GOP has one goal when it comes to women—to strip us of our rights to reproductive health care and the freedom to live the lives we choose.
Since the appointment of Supreme Court justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, state and local Republicans have doubled down on their plan to regulate women’s bodies. And why not? For the first time since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the makeup of the court is so conservative that it’s entirely possible the decision will soon be struck from the books.
We could scream ourselves hoarse, calling out how highly strange and deeply hypocritical it is that the supposed party of small government wants to squeeze itself inside women’s uteruses. Or we could acknowledge what’s really going on here: It’s not a set of ideological principles that motivates the Republican Party. It’s a desire to control women, to limit our possibilities and our potential, to beat back the gains of feminism and civil rights, and to do all that on a platform of coercion, intimidation, and misinformation. Of course, there are some good actors in the Republican Party (likely Catholics) who truly believe that life begins at conception. I don’t believe that, but at least I understand where those people are coming from. Most antichoice sentiment isn’t that.
Here’s just one example: When Alabama state senator Rodger Smitherman, a Democrat, pointed out that the new bill could make it almost impossible to administer IVF—which depends on fertilized eggs—in the state, state senator Clyde Chambliss countered: “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.” As one user on Twitter put it, it’s “almost like it was never about the embryos.”
If Republicans were really pro-life, they would spend less time on draconian antichoice bills and more time and resources making sure that fewer women are ever in a position to seek an abortion. They could work with Democrats to promote sex education, ease access to birth control, and reduce sexual violence. We know this works. In Colorado the statewide birth rate dropped 40 percent after the state distributed free IUDs and implants to teens and poor women over a six-year period. The abortion rate dropped 42 percent in the same interval, per The New York Times. But forget abortions and births. If Republicans were really pro-life, they would try to improve the lives that real, live women already have.
In the past several months, four states have already passed heartbeat bills, a kind of extreme legislation that isn’t new but which could prompt the newly radicalized Supreme Court to revise its decision in Roe. Under a heartbeat bill, a fetus is granted full personhood as soon as it has a detectable heartbeat. In the even more reckless Alabama bill, a fertilized egg is granted full personhood from the moment of conception. At either cutoff, it would take months before that fetus could ever survive as as person outside the womb. Meanwhile, the life and freedom of the person in whose uterus that fetus resides are apparently not so important.
The heartbeat bans are the, ahem, brainchild of conservative activist Janet Porter, who started the Faith2Action organization. You may know her from a few of her previous publicity stunts; in 2011 her organization sent out heart-shaped balloons to thank the Ohio Statehouse legislators who supported the bill. (She also happens to be a birther, who questioned President Obama’s citizenship. So: not quite the best person by all credible standards to make medical decisions on behalf of an entire segment of the population.)
On the whole, it’s no surprise that the greatest champion for these bills is not a doctor or a medical professional at all, but a select group of conservative activists. Doctors are beholden to their patients and to science. Republicans are beholden to their rabid base. Last month the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “Abortion Until Birth” in which members discussed a bill from Senator Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) that would ban abortion at 20 weeks. Per The Washington Post, Sen. Graham invited a so-called abortion survivor to testify that fetuses feel “enormous pain” during the procedure, despite the fact that doctors have knocked down this claim over and over.
Outlawing abortion isn’t about stopping abortions or saving lives. Abortions will continue, legal or not. Republican efforts to ban them come down to a single-minded need to control women’s bodies and to lock down antichoice voters, whose dearest wish, it seems, is to put women in their place. From their stance on health care to their positions on education and gun control, the GOP has made its prerogative clear: It’s not about life. So the question is, what do American women (and men) need to lose before we take the streets? We sit now at the mercy of a mostly male Supreme Court, as mostly male state lawmakers pass sexist bill after sexist bill and high-five each other on the way home.
Famously, someone once asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg about the future we should fight for. Someone asked her, “When will there be enough?” In other words, when would she be satisfied with the number of women on the court? To that person, she said, “When there are nine.” Her answer, she said, shocked people. “But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” Well, American women have some questions. We’ll answer them with our feet and with our votes.
Molly Jong-Fast is the author of three novels. Follow her on Twitter @mollyjongfast.
Originally Appeared on Glamour