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Column: Anti-abortion zealots, pawns use big government to narrow democracy
Andy Brack
Andy Brack

If you love small government, hold on to your hats. Anti-abortionists are relying on the power of big government to take away people’s rights.

Yep, these conservative zealots who have cried for years about personal responsibility and freedom from government have embraced big government to restrict what women can do with their bodies. This week, the years of Kool-Aid drinking and fighting to impose a right-wing moral code on everyone paid off when the governor of Alabama, a white woman wearing a bright red suit, signed the nation’s most restrictive anti-abortion bill into law. For now, Alabama has essentially criminalized and banned abortion. Neighboring Georgia and Mississippi, which also have recently passed sweeping anti-abortion legislation, have hugged the power of big government, too.

“Abortion bans come down to power and control,” said Ann Warner, CEO of WREN, the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network in Columbia. “Abortion bans are a tool of patriarchal white supremacy. They attempt to rob women of control over their own bodies and their futures and put that power in the hands of the state, which is mostly controlled by white men. Women of color, poor women, and women living in rural areas will undoubtedly be most harmed by these restrictions.”

Across Dixie, it’s not much of a stretch to see history repeating itself. But the optics of abortion is different than what happened during the civil rights movement. Back then in segregated Alabama, the white establishment sicced snarling dogs on black children and turned water hoses on non-violent civil rights activists who wanted to vote, drink from the same water fountains, attend good schools, shop equally and eat in the restaurants without discrimination. In other words, they wanted to be treated as Americans, not second-class citizens.

Today, there’s less violence, but a similar outcome. Now, the conservative white establishment of 2019, fueled by partisan rancor, race-baiting and the politics of hate disguised by religion, is using the power of Southern state legislatures to subjugate woman. To mollify the thirsty right-wing extreme of the GOP base, legislators kowtow to anti-abortion fundamentalism.

But what these legislative pawns are doing now is really different from what happened 60 years ago. Unlike civil rights activists who struggled to expand democracy, today’s anti-abortion zealots are trying to narrow it. They’re throwing away years of talking points on personal responsibility and embracing the plantation culture of the old South.

“This is [them] saying, ‘No, you’re not responsible for yourself, but we’re going to make this decision for you,’ said Susan Dunn, interim executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “It’s a real attack on personal autonomy and a real attack on personal responsibility and ends up making second-class citizens of any woman of childbearing age.”

Columbia activist Melissa Watson says she’s worried low-income black and brown women are going to be hurt by abortion bans.

“The impact of limiting access to quality health care, such as abortions, will lead to an increase in mortality rates for black women, and we already have the highest rates in the industrialized world,” she said. “How is that pro-life? We will have more black and brown mothers dying due to of lack of access to quality care and the ones who survive will be left at a disadvantage because of the GOP’s efforts to dismantle safety net programs and block progressive policies that can help new parents.”

Charleston activist Tamika Gadsden said anti-abortion legislation in other Southern states recalls the days of Jim and Jane Crow: “It’s pulled from the same ‘playbook’ in that restricting access to care for one group of people will undoubtedly lead to folks being pushed further to the margins -- economically, educationally, etc… I think the rapidly-changing demographics here in the United States have frightened folks who benefit from privilege,” she said. “These laws are an expression of that fear and an attempt to maintain that privilege.”

Warner added, “South Carolinians need to speak up now, before it is too late.”

South Carolina’s leaders should remember our nation is a government of laws, not a government of men -- words used in 1963 by then-Gov. Fritz Hollings to calm troubled waters over integration at Clemson.