As promised, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and Planned Parenthood Federation of America have filed a lawsuit to block Alabama’s recently enacted, dizzingly restrictive abortion ban.
The most recent in a string of state laws designed to undercut the legitimacy of Roe v. Wade, Alabama’s legislation went further even than the six-week prohibitions that preceded it, criminalizing a legal procedure in nearly every case, unless a pregnancy puts the mother’s health at “serious risk.” There are no other exceptions — not for rape, not for incest — and if the law went into effect, doctors who help their patients terminate could face up to 99 years in prison.
The measure’s extremity has divided even Republicans, and as soon as Governor Kay Ivey signed it on May 15, the ACLU promised a showdown:
On Friday, they made good on their word, filing a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on behalf of the state’s abortion providers. “We said we would and we did,” the ACLU of Alabama said in a tweet.
In a statement, Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, called the ban “blatantly unconstitutional,” and a signal of “just how far [Alabama legislators will] go to push their anti-abortion agenda.” And as with the prohibitively early bans that have passed in Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Missouri in recent weeks, Alabama’s goal is to pick a legal fight that will rise all the way up the ranks to the Supreme Court in an attempt to undermine the central principle of Roe v. Wade, which has kept abortion legal up to 24 weeks (the point at which a fetus is considered viable outside the womb) since 1973. Of course, state lawmakers have long found other means of limiting patients’ access to abortion care, but this legislative push marks a full-on, pointed attack on the procedure’s legality nationwide.
As Intelligencer points out, a number of challenges to restrictions in other states (Indiana, Louisiana) have made it further down the road to the Supreme Court than Alabama’s has, so this particular case probably won’t be the death knell. Unfortunately, the process of walking back abortion rights will likely be undertaken in multiple steps, a chipping-away rather than a single blow.
But for now, it’s eminently worth repeating that abortion remains legal, none of these laws have gone into effect, and the widespread (if eminently understandable) panic around the current legislative onslaught only plays into anti-choice legislators’ hands. As Dr. Yashica Robinson, Board Member of Physicians for Reproductive Health and an OB/GYN in Alabama, told the Cut in an interview last week, “people are confused” as to whether or not they can currently walk into a clinic and receive care.
“One young lady told me about how she dreamed that she was going to get here and we were going to say that we couldn’t take care of her,” Robinson recalled. “We’re receiving calls from patients all throughout the day now, and we’re trying to reassure them that we’re still here. Access is still available, even though they’ve seen the bill pass in the House and then in the Senate. After every step, we received phone calls. Patients think that it’s like turning off a switch, and now there’s no care in Alabama.”
Still, Robinson added, she’s “hopeful that good sense and doing what’s right for women will prevail.” The “majority of people” — and this it true, both in general and with respect to Alabama specifically — “feel that abortion should remain available.”
“You know how they say the good guy always wins?” Robinson said. “Having access to safe health care is important, it’s good, so I feel like we will prevail in the end. We will win.”
Here’s hoping she’s right.