Leonard Pitts: Republican Party working to repeal 20th century

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 23, 2019

By Leonard Pitts

The Republican Party’s appeal, it has occasionally been argued in this space, stems largely from an implicit promise: Vote for us and we will repeal the 20th century.

This was meant as truth wrapped in snarky hyperbole. But, as has become distressingly apparent over the years, it’s actually truth wrapped in truth.

The latest evidence thereof arrived with a jolt last week in the form of the so-called “Human Life Protection Act,” passed by the Alabama state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey. Even by the standards of an era of emboldened encroachment upon a woman’s right to choose, the bill stands out as the most sweeping and restrictive abortion ban of modern times.

No abortions. Not in cases of rape. Not in cases of incest.

So Alabama is prepared to force some 12-year-old girl, raped by some malignant excuse for a father, to give birth to any child thereby conceived — in effect, raping her again. And any doctor who helps her in defiance of the law faces a possible 99-year prison term.

This is obviously intended as a shot across the bow of Roe v. Wade, a shortcut to the Supreme Court where, between the seat Republicans stole from President Obama and the one into which they wedged a credibly accused attempted rapist, they hope to finally achieve their long-held goal of ending federal abortion protections. But the gratuitous cruelty of the ban has even one abortion opponent shaking his head.

Meaning televangelist Pat Robertson, who has dubbed the bill “extreme.” That’s like Dracula sending his steak back because it’s too bloody. It tells you how far over the line Alabama has gone.And note, please, that the state now barging so brazenly into women’s uteruses is the same one that has banned the sale of sex toys since 1998. For an ideology supposedly predicated upon getting government out of people’s lives, conservatives seem awfully determined to insert themselves into the most intimate crannies of people’s lives.

But then, it seems obvious that their larger target was never so-called “big government,” but rather, modernity itself, progress itself, change itself — the repeal of the 20th century. That was, remember, the century that saw African Americans finally win voting rights, gay people blow up the metaphorical closet and labor unions win higher wages and better conditions for American workers.

It is no coincidence that the first decades of the 21st century find the Voting Rights Act in shambles and voter suppression rampant, courts ruling on laws purporting to protect a religious “right” to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans and the union movement fighting for survival. Nor is it coincidental that, having won control of their reproductive destiny, women now face this abomination in Alabama. Consider it another wake-up bell for an era already clangorous with them, a pointed reminder that in the sphere of social change, victory is never permanent because the forces of regress never rest. The forces of progress must emulate them, must learn that there’s no guarantee the battle won stays won. Not without ongoing vigilance, organization and a commitment to vote, every single time. Note that the Alabama bill was passed by Senate Republicans — 25 white men — in a state that is one-third people of color and over half female.

This is representative democracy? No, it is legislative thuggery. But let it also stand as a source of resolve for those it leaves worried and dispirited. Victory is never permanent, it’s true.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.