Welcome to the dystopia of Alabama
By CONNIE SCHULTZ
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.
Last 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 vs. 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.
Alabama senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton nailed it when he said to his Republican colleagues, “You just said to my daughter… ‘You don’t matter in the state of Alabama.'”
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 their 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.