Sweet Home Alabama

“Sweet Home Alabama, Where the skies are so blue, Sweet Home Alabama, Lord, I’m coming home to you.”

This song is so universally popular that my school friend from India has this as her ringtone. Also, I have spent the last two decades working on women’s right to safe abortion.

So yeah, for both those reasons, I have a rather strong opinion on what Alabama just tried to do to its women.

It made me think about the long history and the politics which created this song.

Alabama-Poverty

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Historically, African Americans were brought to Alabama as slaves, in greatest numbers in the cotton-producing plantation region. This region remains predominantly African American, where many freedmen settled to work at agriculture after the Civil War.

The Selma to Montgomery marches, led by Martin Luther King Jr, were three protest marches, held in 1965, along the highway from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery. These were organized by nonviolent activists to demonstrate the desire of African-American citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote, in defiance of segregationist repression, and were part of a broader voting rights movement underway in Selma and throughout the American South.

Then in 1972 a group of youngsters set up a band and named it Lynryd Skynryd after their PE teacher who had punished one of them for having long hair. ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was one of their most popular songs ever. The details of the political interpretations can be found here if you want to know more but what is interesting is that this song belongs to a genre known as Southern Rock.

As a cultural formation, southern rock bands not only demonstrated progressive racial views, they also demonstrated progressive political views through the lyrics and subjects of their songs, as well as by actively participating in the 1976 presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter.

The cultural form of southern rock music is political in that many songs addressed social issues like racial injustice, poverty, gun control, domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse.

These inclinations towards liberal politics went against the political trend being set by many white southerners who increasingly supported the more conservative Republican Party in the post-civil rights South. This political realignment has been described as “the legacy of the Civil Rights Acts,” and resulted in southern whites flocking to the Republican Party, which actively appealed to conservative southerners dismayed by the advancements of racial integration.

It is not surprising that a generation later it is a Governor from Alabama who has fired the opening salvo in what is probably a larger strategy to challenge Roe vs Wade. (the law which allows women to seek abortions in USA.)

It is also not surprising, given the two- faced hypocrisy of most politicians, that they day after signing this abortion ban bill, and stating that ‘every life is precious and every life is sacred gift from God’, the Governor will be returning one of these ‘gifts’ to God by overseeing the execution of a man on Death Row.

(Kind of like a Christmas gift you didn’t really want to keep. Hey, God, can I get a credit voucher on this one?)

Clearly ‘every life’ has a different meaning depending on which side of the tracks you find yourself!

Not surprisingly, Alabama has exceuted more people on Death Row than any other state in the US and most of those executed have been African- Americans, although they form barely 25% of the total population.

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What we are seeing here today is the coming together of many layers of oppression. The word ‘Kyriarchy’ was coined by Elisabeth Fiorenza to explain a complex system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of super-ordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression. This brings in the hetero-patriarchy, the religious conservatism, white supremacism, the neo-liberal globalization and also the criminalization of poverty.

Alabama also has a historical connection with other violations of the rights of women and vulnerable people. James Marion Sims studied medicine in Alabama and is known as the “Father of Gynaecology” and one of his contributions incudes the surgical technique for repairing the bladder which has been damaged by prolonged labour. His statues in NYC and other places are finally being pulled down since it is known that he ‘perfected’ those techniques named after him by experimenting, repeatedly, on slave women ( one of whom was 18 years old), without anaesthesia, because he believed that ‘these women feel no pain.’

Let us also not forget the Tuskegee Trials, also from Alabama, where experimental drugs to treat syphilis were tested on former plantation workers and then continued even after penicillin was discovered and known to cure the condition.

Alabama is a state where 8,00,000 of them live below the poverty line. The state has some of the worst conditions of poverty in the developed world, according to a visiting United Nations official.

“Philip Alston, whose job takes him around the planet to look at conditions of extreme poverty, said some of the things he saw in parts of Alabama so-called Black Belt, particularly in regard to sewage disposal, were unprecedented in the West. People in the region frequently suffer from E. Coli and hookworm, a disease associated with extreme poverty and which was thought to have been eradicated in the US more than 100 years ago but which was recently found to persist in pockets of Lowndes County, located just 20 miles from the state capital, Montgomery, where many residents are too poor to afford a septic system and make their own sewer lines using PVC piping.”

Here is a quote from a counsellor from the State: “I just spoke with a woman who needs help raising money for an abortion. She has two children and no job. Medicaid will only pay for her medical care if she carries to term. She has no TV to sell, so she’s been selling her
children’s toys. Do you know anyone who can help,” she asked. The woman needed $75.

US_maternal_mortality_by_state

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What is laughable is that some media houses are stating that thisproposed Bill is actually meant to reduce racism and poverty!

“Self-styled progressives have all the Handmaid’s Tale memes and punchy tweets to suggest that the Alabama measure is great step back for womankind. But, in fact, the new law pushes back against racism and sexism by rejecting the defeatist notion that there is only room in modern society for selected unborn lives to be afforded the right to life…… Alabama shows that black mothers make up the majority of the abortion industry’s business in the state. Abortion supporters would exacerbate this situation, making abortion access easier for minority mothers in Alabama, who are likely to be poor. This essentially sends the message that society has nothing to offer her child should she choose bring it into the world, so she might as well abort it. …..Far from being cruel and oppressive, the bill’s message to mothers is one of freedom, that they need not give up their motherhood because life is difficult. A mother deserves better than having to make the gruesome choice between her child and her dreams.”

Uh….yeah, exactly what we are saying except we recognize that women are human beings with dreams, aspirations and ambitions and should not be forced to give up on their dreams for compulsory motherhood.

In a state that ranks among the top ten in poverty, illiteracy, maternal mortality and infant mortality, while also banning contraception, it is indeed baffling to understand how the ban on abortion is going to ‘push back against racism and sexism.’

India’s Minister for Health and Family Planning spoke at the World Population Conference in Bucharest in 1974 where his statement that ‘development is the best contraceptive’ was widely quoted. In a recent statement he says “I must admit that 20 years later, I am inclined to reverse this, and my position now is that contraception is the best development.”

But for the residents of Alabama, USA, it is no-win situation, since they are getting neither contraception nor development!Now the future holds a scenario where they cannot get safe abortions either.

We have evidence from so many countries, over so many decades, that has shown repeatedly and conclusively, that banning abortions does not stop abortions, it only results in more unsafe abortions!

The Global Gag Rule has already set in motion a juggernaut that is likely to kill or maim millions of women and girls in so many countries across the world. Now the impact of these ridiculous and un-realistic policies will be felt by the most marginalized and vulnerable women within the US also.

In a country like Nepal, on the other side of the world from USA, where legalization of abortion in 2002 contributed to a sharp decline in maternal mortality, which fell dramatically from 580 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1995 to 190 per 100,000 in 2013.

Whereas in Romania during the Ceausescu’s regime in 1989 when abortion was banned, the maternal death rate spiked. It then fell dramatically as soon as the ban was lifted.

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How many more times does it need to be said?

As long as men and women have sex women will continue to get pregnant, despite the most perfect contraceptive use. Often even planned pregnancies can become unwanted. If a pregnancy is caused by rape or incest, it is most likely to be rather unwanted. This Bill proposes to punish women for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies –as though a woman has any control over these physiological events than any man does over his sperm count or composition.

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In an age when we are preparing for a colony on Mars and creating Artificial Intelligence of the most superior humanoid standards, perhaps we need to be taking a look at Natural Stupidity and sending most politicians off- planet.

Until then, here is a George Carlin video I would like to leave you with because he said it sharp and clear. ‘God is the leading cause of death! And these laws are not pro-life—they are anti-woman.’

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About Suchitra Dalvie

Suchitra Dalvie is the Coordinator for the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership and a Steering Committee Member for CommonHealth. She is a strong believer in women's rights to safe abortion and has worked in promoting the cause for over 10 years. She is also a practicing Gynecologist.
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