Jun. 25—In a ruling to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case, the United States Supreme Court has overturned its previous ruling — set by Roe v. Wade — that the right to privacy includes a woman's decision to continue or terminate pregnancy free from prosecution during the first trimester. By removing this precedent, SCOTUS has cleared the path for the implementation of Alabama's 2019 Human Life Protection Act.
While states have tried to implement abortion bans in the past, both 1973's Roe v. Wade, as well as 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, have always been the federal obstacles superseding a state's individual law. However, in 2018, the state of Mississippi passed a law banning most abortions after fifteen weeks of pregnancy. In an appeal to SCOTUS, courts ruled in favor of the State of Mississippi, effectively declaring the right to regulate abortion to a state's legislative branches of government.
While the State of Alabama passed its own abortion ban in 2019 with the Human Life Protection Act, a federal injunction based upon prior Supreme Court rulings deemed the law unconstitutional. With the June 24 announcement however, Alabama District Attorney Steve Marshall said he is prepared to petition the injunction and has said that the 2019 law will become effective immediately following its removal.
"Because neither the United States Constitution nor the Alabama Constitution provides a right to abortion, Alabama laws that prohibit abortion and that have not been enjoined by a court are in full effect," Marshall said in a press release. "For those laws that have been halted by courts, the state will immediately file motions to dissolve those injunctions. Any abortionist or abortion clinic operating in the state of Alabama in violation of Alabama law should immediately cease and desist operations."
While the Alabama law isn't as strict as recent bills passed in some states, such as Texas — whose 2021 Senate Bill 8 bans abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and offers at least $10,000 to anyone who successfully sues an abortion provider or anyone who "aids and abets" someone seeking an abortion — Alabama Democrats are critical of the laws' attempts to preserve life only until the moment of birth.
"Republican politicians will claim this is a win for 'life' in a state with high infant mortality rates, a Black maternal mortality crisis, and countless other public health crises, said Democratic Chair Representative Chris England. "They refuse to expand Medicaid, providing free lifesaving healthcare access to Alabama families — or do anything else that actually sanctifies life for Alabamians. Now, their law will block abortion access in Alabama, negatively affecting women with the fewest resources the most."
Under the new Alabama law, almost all abortions would be banned — with the exception of cases that a pregnancy results in endangering the life of the mother — including cases involving rape and incest.
According to the law (Alabama Code Section 26-23B-6) "any person who knowingly, intentionally or recklessly attempts to perform an abortion" is capable of being prosecuted and faces up to 99 years imprisonment. While statements made by Republicans say that the person having an abortion performed is free from prosecution, newly elected Cullman County District Attorney Champ Crocker says that he would determine that.
"Abortion is illegal in Alabama. There may be different interpretations of that, but I would say that according to the law, abortion is illegal."
During an interview with the Alabama Policy Institute, attorney and legal scholar Eric Johnston stated that the law uses the timeframe that says a fertilized egg must be implanted within the uterine wall before being protected. With this typically taking place about eight or nine days after conception, over-the-counter, as well as physician-prescribed "Plan B" pills would still be considered a legal means of contraceptive.
However, the online availability of two-stage "abortion pills" that can be effective as late as 9 weeks into a pregnancy calls into question who can legally be considered an "abortionist" under the new law. When asked if a person could potentially be prosecuted for purchasing or providing such medications to end a pregnancy, Crocker said that he, "was not prepared to to answer."
Lauren Frazier with Planned Parenthood in Birmingham — who suspended abortion services in Alabama several months ago — calls the effectiveness of the law into question.
"Abortion bans are overwhelmingly unpopular, even in Alabama," Frazier said. "No abortion restrictions, even the ones pre-Roe, stopped people seeking access to abortion."
As Alabamians await the implantation of the state's abortion ban GOP representatives praise the decision as a landmark ruling protecting life, and local advocacy groups feel that they are seeing their rights taken away.
US Sen. Richard Shelby heralded the decision.
"It is our moral and ethical duty to protect the dignity of human life, particularly when it comes to the unborn," Shelby said in a statement. "Today's decision by the Supreme Court justly upholds the writings of our Constitution and allows us to preserve innocent human life."
The Alabama Rally Against Injustice organization has planned a series of three simultaneous reproductive rights rallies to take place Sunday, June 26.
"This decision allows state lawmakers to take women's reproductive rights into their own hands, a majority of whose hands in the Alabama Legislature belong to people the decision does not affect: men. Roe allowed women access to reproductive health for the last 50 years, and the Supreme Court made it clear today they are not done going after our human rights," the organization said in a statement.
The ARAI rallies are set to take place at 10 am on Sunday June 26 at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Madison County Courthouse in Huntsville and the Alabama Archives building in Montgomery.
Marshall said that "any act of vandalism or violence against any crisis pregnancy center, church, or other pro-life entity in retaliation for today's decision will be prosecuted by the Attorney General's Office to the fullest extent of the law."