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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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Welcome To The Dystopia Of Alabama

Let’s start with a few facts about the children currently living in Alabama.

Twenty-six percent of them — more than 285,280 — lived in poverty in 2018, which is the most recent year for available data. About 30 percent of Alabama’s children living in poverty are younger than 5.

This data comes from Kids Count, an annual project by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that tracks children’s well-being in every state.

Poverty has its consequences, particularly for young children. Research has long shown that growing up poor harms brain development. How much?

A 2015 pediatric study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association answers that question with devastating clarity.

Poverty cripples a child’s ability to learn, and not just for a little while. As Scientific American reported, the study showed that “up to 20 percent of the achievement gap between high- and low-income children may be explained by differences in brain development.”

How bad are those differences?

“The researchers found that children who grew up in families below the federal poverty line had gray matter volumes 8 to 10 percent below normal development.”

To be clear, by “gray matter,” they mean the brain.

So, that’s one measure of how much Alabama values the life of a child.

Here’s another: Alabama has the highest infant mortality rate in the country. When it comes to keeping children alive after they’re born, Alabama is rock-bottom last.

So, what is Alabama doing to help these children?

Well, we have news.

In the competition for which state is the closest replica of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Republic of Gilead, Alabama is the hands-down winner. It is now the most dangerous state in the country, and the most hostile one, for women of reproductive age.

This week, the Alabama state legislature passed the harshest anti-abortion bill in the U.S., with no exceptions for rape or incest. Say that out loud, and then try to come up with a scenario where that sounds OK.

In Alabama, we already know how that scenario plays out. A bunch of Republican legislators had the chance to imagine what it would be like to be a 14-year-old girl raped by her father and then forced to deliver a child that will remind her of that trauma every day of her life. They were just fine with that.

I am reminded, not in a good way, of the afternoon I spent sitting in an Ohio statehouse committee room a few years back. This was an earlier round of the so-called heartbeat bill, which just passed again in Ohio, and also in Georgia. A right-to-life zealot with a law degree stood before the Republican majority and argued that a pregnancy conceived during a rape is a gift from God. As he spoke, rape survivors in the audience quietly sobbed with outrage and grief.

In Alabama, Rep. Terri Collins, who sponsored the new anti-abortion bill, said that its purpose is to “force the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade,” the landmark 1973 decision that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion.

Yet another Republican who thinks women’s bodies are their playground. I’m sure they’d never put it that way, because any reference to play in the context of reproductive rights would suggest that some women have sex for fun. There will be none of that in the Heart of Dixie.

As usual, there is no statutory punishment for all those men and boys inseminating women and girls who weren’t planning to get pregnant. The last thing Republican legislators want to do is mess up junior’s life.

For many years, “We Dare Defend Our Rights” has been Alabama’s state motto. Now that they’ve made clear who does and does not have them, it’s time for a new motto, don’t you think? Maybe “Take a Whirl, Blame the Girl.”

Until further notice, all you women and girls of reproductive age in Alabama can pick up bonnets and red dresses at one of the 144 Walmart stores in Alabama, where the average hourly wage, as reported in January 2019, is $13.89.

Work 40 hours and you, too, can make just barely enough money to keep you above the poverty line for a family of four.

Who needs a growing brain?

 

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

“Pro-Life” Republicans Show Contempt For Children

There is a profound cynicism, an ugly, jarring hypocrisy, at the heart of the battle to end reproductive rights for women, and nowhere is that fraudulent politics more vividly on display than in Mississippi. The state that brings up the rear on virtually every measure of child vitality and well-being for which we have statistics — behind even my home state of Alabama — has just passed one of the most restrictive anti-abortion measures in the country.

In signing the legislation, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant was able to say this with a straight face: “We here in Mississippi believe in protecting and defending the whole life of that child. … From education to safety to healthcare, it is the child that we are fighting for here in Mississippi.”

That was incredible, mendacious, indecently contemptuous of the facts. Mississippi is one of the worst places in America for a child to grow up, especially if that child is black and poor. Just take a look at the 2018 Health of Women and Children Report, published by the United Health Foundation. Mississippi has the nation’s highest rate of infant mortality and the second-highest rate of child mortality. It has the highest rate of child poverty, with 31 percent of its children poor. That soars to 49 percent for black children, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.

For decades now, it has been a commonplace that the regions of the country that treat poor children with policies ranging from malign neglect to visceral contempt are also the regions that insist on forcing women to carry their pregnancies to term, to bear babies that those women do not believe they can care for. It is also a commonplace that men — usually affluent men with antediluvian views of home and hearth — play starring roles in those campaigns against reproductive rights.

While Mississippi makes an easy case for the hypocrisy on display among the so-called “pro-life” crowd, it is by no means the only place where such cynicism lives casually, out in the open. In most of the states where young lives are most fragile — Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas among them — conservative lawmakers and their constituents have been busy rolling back reproductive rights.

Take Alabama, where voters last year added a so-called trigger law to the state constitution, a measure that would likely outlaw abortion in the state if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade, as many political observers expect the high court, now freighted with right-wingers, to do. And like Mississippi, my home state has little use for newborns once they have sprung from the womb.

Alabama ranks 49th in infant mortality; like Mississippi, it sees a higher rate of infant deaths than some developing countries. It ranks 44th in child mortality, according to the Health of Women and Children Report. In Alabama, 26 percent of children live in poverty overall, a figure that surges to 47 percent for black children, the National Center for Child Poverty says.

While the young and poor die or suffer grim diseases for lack of decent health care, Mississippi’s GOP-led state legislature has been rigid in its refusal to expand Medicaid, although, under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would shoulder the vast majority of the costs. Alabama’s GOP-dominated legislature has done the same.

Louisiana, which ranks 44th in infant mortality, 48th in child mortality and 47th in maternal mortality, passed a so-called trigger law back in 2006 that could ban abortions. That state has at least expanded Medicaid, which is necessary for the 28 percent of children — 47 percent of black children — who live in poverty there.

There are, among opponents of abortion, a few, mostly Catholics, who are staunch in their support for measures that would ameliorate poverty, break down the barriers of inequality and give poor families a leg up. But most in the anti-abortion crowd don’t show the slightest interest in such measures. They don’t try to cover their misogyny with a fig leaf of remedies to boost the well-being of mothers and children. They know that we know this is an attack on women’s freedom and agency, and they don’t care.

IMAGE: Mississippi’s Republican Governor, Phil Bryant.