Medical News Alabama’s extreme new law could lead to an end of US abortion rights
16 May 2019
Activists protest outside of the US Supreme Court, during the March for Life in Washington in JanuaryJose Luis Magana/AP/REX/Shutterstock
By Chelsea WhyteThe most restrictive abortion bill in any US state has just been signed into state law, outlawing abortions in Alabama at any stage of pregnancy.
The law will take effect in six months, and includes criminal penalties for doctors who perform or attempt to perform abortions, with a sentence of up to 99 years in prison. There are exemptions for cases where the life of the mother or fetus is threatened, but none for cases of incest or rape.
This is the latest in a slew of state bills that have passed this year aiming to reduce abortion rights in Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky and Mississippi. Some have been swiftly struck down in state courts as unconstitutional, others are set to take effect over the next seven months. And some may be appealed to the Supreme Court, where its verdict could overturn 50 years of abortion protections.
Georgia recently banned all abortions after a heartbeat can be detected – usually about six weeks after conception, when many women are still unaware that they are pregnant.
The Georgia law recognises a fetus as a person, which means it could be considered murder. However, it leaves open the question of who would be penalised for an abortion – the person ending their pregnancy or the doctor performing one. In Georgia, the penalty for murder is life imprisonment or the death penalty.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said it will file lawsuit to stop these bills moving forward. On 15 May, it entered such a legal battle with the state of Ohio, where a similar law will take effect in July if it isn’t struck down in court. Like the law in Alabama, Ohio has no exemptions for incest or rape.
The coming legal battle is precisely the point of these bills, which are unconstitutional by design. Terri Collins, the Alabama Representative who sponsored that state’s latest abortion bill, says the purpose is to challenge the federal law that protects the right to an abortion.
Roe vs Wade
Alabama Senator Clyde Chambliss says that IVF clinics that discard eggs wouldn’t face criminal charges under the new law because an egg in a lab is not in a woman.
“2019 has become the year where anti-abortion politicians have fully admitted that their ultimate agenda is banning abortion outright,” said state policy analyst Elizabeth Nash at the US research organisation Guttmacher Institute in a statement.
“All these various paths lead to the same goal: advancing abortion restrictions to the US Supreme Court in hopes that an increasingly conservative Court will undermine or even overturn [Roe vs Wade],” she said.
Roe vs Wade is the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that protects a woman’s right to an abortion before a fetus can survive on its own. Support for the ruling hit an all-time high in 2018. According to an NBC poll, 71 per cent of people in the US said it shouldn’t be overturned.
That may be related to the fact that 1 in 4 women in the US will have an abortion before the age of 45, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute.
To overturn Roe vs Wade, a state law that contradicts it can be appealed until it reaches the Supreme Court, where the justices would decide whether or not to reverse the precedent set in the 1970s.
Though the court has long been reticent to reverse major rulings, a new conservative line-up of justices put in place by US president Donald Trump may make it possible.
One justice has already raised a warning. In a recent decision overturning a 40-year-old precedent in California tax law, Justice Stephen Breyer alluded to a 1992 case upholding Roe vs Wade and wrote, “Today’s decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the Court will overrule next.”
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