Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Leaving Alabama’s IVF programs open to attack

  A recent episode of Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” podcast offered an appropriate metaphor for Alabama politics.

  Carlin discussed Alexander the Great, the ancient Greeks and their methods of fighting. When those kingdoms and city states came to blows, they put on their armor, grabbed their shields, and formed tight units called phalanxes. Each man in the phalanx – which could run dozens of rows deep — carried a tall spear in his right hand and a shield in his left.

  Being reasonable people, the ancient Greeks wanted to minimize their risk of getting stabbed by long sticks. So when that possibility loomed, a soldier would raise his shield with his left hand, and huddle as much as he could behind the shield of the person on his right.

  As a result, phalanxes tended to drift to the right during combat. That was the safest part of the battlefield.

  These hoplites would feel at home in the Alabama Legislature. The politicians in our mostly Republican government fear that if they don’t appease the extremes, they’ll leave themselves open to attack.

  So they drift to the right. Where they feel safe.

  And this means they debate issues that aren’t a matter of debate.

  Did Alabamians as a whole want to keep up statues of long-dead white supremacists?

  Are programs that encourage people to get along dehumanizing?

  Do medical professionals helping teenagers navigate gender dysphoria deserve prison time?

  Should Alabama force the victim of a sexual assault to carry a resulting pregnancy to term?

  Don’t second-guess yourself. Reasonable people had come to a consensus on these matters.

  But in Alabama’s one-party system of government, unreasonable people drive the conversations.

  This is how you get a government that makes it hard for Black communities to remove statues of slaveholders; that makes life hell for transgender youth, and that forces victims of rape and incest to repeatedly live out their traumas.

  It doesn’t serve the people of the state. But our government wasn’t designed for the people here. It’s aimed at ensuring that the powerful stay that way.

  With one party perpetually in charge, primaries are more important than general elections. Primaries draw the most extreme GOP partisans.

  And so our leaders step to the right to ensure they survive those battles.

  In general, this need to appease the extremes falls hardest on marginalized groups — like transgender people, who make up less than 1% of Alabama’s population. The state’s leaders have an ugly tradition of targeting people with limited ability to fight back. But in general, they’ve left popular ideas or services alone.

  But now in vitro fertilization has the attention of extremists.

  It’s another issue that wasn’t broadly controversial until February. Who would object to loving couples having children? Well, the Alabama Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Tom Parker, who wants to impose a reactionary version of Christianity on the state.

  Justices ruled in February that a frozen embryo was a child. Destruction of frozen embryos could mean a parent could collect damages. Which made it very hard for IVF clinics in the state to operate.

  Amid a national outcry, the Republican-controlled legislature swiftly passed a law to protect IVF providers from criminal and civil liability.

  But will they stick with it?

  Republican leaders decided not to consider proposals from Democrats that would have addressed the heart of the Alabama Supreme Court’s finding on fetal personhood. The immunity bill was sold to lawmakers as a stopgap proposition that would allow legislators to explore the issue in depth, through a commission.

  Of course, IVF wasn’t an issue until the state courts made it so. But now we’re seeing the outlines of a more sustained attack on the service.

  Already, litigation in Mobile County is challenging the legislature’s fix. The Southern Baptists, who count many Alabama lawmakers as congregants, now oppose helping infertile couples with this treatment.

  Can we count on lawmakers to resist this new offensive?

  The early signs aren’t good. Legislators keep punting on that IVF commission. If the Mobile County lawsuit gets to the Alabama Supreme Court, the law could be a goner. Parker all but invited challenges to legislative fixes in his concurrence to the court’s ruling in February.

  And people already teetering over the right edge of public discourse now want restrictions on a procedure they showed little interest in before the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling. Rep. Ernie Yarbrough (R-Trinity) even compared current IVF procedures in the state to the Holocaust.

  I’d like to think that making it hard to have babies would be too much for our self-professed “pro-life” politicians. They could stiffen against this assault — if not for families pursuing IVF, then for keeping the support of suburban GOP voters.

  But I also thought no one would ever force sexual assault victims to carry their attackers’ children. The Alabama Legislature did. And faced no consequences.

  It doesn’t matter that IVF is popular. If extremists shout down support for the procedure, our leaders will start seeking protection.

  They will take yet another step to the right. And as they do, they’ll leave infertile couples open to attack.

  About the author: Brian Lyman is the editor of Alabama Reflector. He has covered Alabama politics since 2006 and worked at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register, and The Anniston Star. A 2024 Pulitzer finalist for Commentary, his work has also won awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Alabama Press Association, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights.

  This article was published by Alabama Reflector, which is part of  States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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