After signing the country’s strictest abortion ban into law Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) explained her reasoning in a statement, citing “Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”
But that belief is not reflected in the state’s abysmal statistics when it comes to child mortality, child poverty, food insecurity, education, child care, or paid family leave. Indeed, Ivey’s stated commitment to giving “every person the best chance for a quality life and promising future” doesn’t seem to extend beyond the womb.
Under Alabama’s total abortion ban, providers could face jail time of 10 to 99 years for providing abortions. Patients are exempt from criminal and civil charges. The only exception is if the health of the pregnant person is at serious risk. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. The law will go into effect in 2020, but is expected to be met with lawsuits before then.
Meanwhile, Alabama has the fourth worst infant mortality rate in the country, at 7.4 deaths for every 1,000 births, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. This number is actually the lowest in the state’s history, a glaring sign that infant health has long been a major problem in Alabama. And there are significant disparities between black and white infants: The Alabama Department of Public Health found that the 2015 infant mortality rate for black infants was the highest it has been in a decade, at 15.3 per 1,000 births, while the white infant mortality rate was at its lowest, at 5.2.
But the Alabama legislature has done little to tackle this problem, choosing instead to focus primarily on “fringe issues and oddball causes that don’t improve Alabamians’ lives and health,” the editorial board of a local newspaper wrote in 2018.
The same holds true of the state’s child poverty rate. A 2018 report by VOICES for Alabama Children found that there were more children living in poverty in 2018 than in 2000. About 26.5% of children in Alabama live in poverty, including about 30% of children under the age of 5.
Alabama is also one of the most food insecure states in the country, with more than 16% of the population struggling to afford food. This means that more than one in five children grow up hungry. The problem, as Hunger Free America CEO Joel Berg explained to Alabama Today, has much to do with the state’s lack of a minimum wage, instead abiding by the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
“It’s no surprise that we again found that states with higher minimum wages have less hunger among working people and states with lower minimum wages had more hunger among working people,” he said.
Exacerbating the situation are recent drops in food stamp recipients, thanks to the expiration of a federal waiver that allowed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to be exempt from work requirements. Now, all able-bodied SNAP recipients between the ages of 18 and 49 who aren’t raising children must have at least a part-time job to qualify for benefits. Last year, 38,000 Alabamians lost eligibility to food stamps.
Alabama consistently ranks as one of the worst states when it comes to public education. The state’s per pupil funding of $9,497 is significantly lower than the national average of about $11,400. Similarly, Alabama has done little to enact regulations for childcare services, allowing hundreds of child care centers to claim a religious exemption from licensing, even as child injuries and deaths at unlicensed centers have garnered attention over the past few years.
The average family in Alabama has a tough time affording child care, as the cost of taking care of one infant demands 11% of a family’s income. Research by the Economic Policy Institute found that this cost is “out of reach for low-wage workers.”
Making matters worse, Alabama does not have a statewide paid family leave policy. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, “This means Alabamians face impossible choices when new children are born or adopted and when serious personal or family health needs inevitably arise.”