What You Need to Know About Alabama’s New Abortion Law

There’s quite a lot of misinformation floating around about Alabama’s new abortion law, which Governor Kay Ivey signed on Wednesday, May 15. To clear up any confusion, I’ve broken the bill down provision-by-provision and predicted what’s likely to come in its wake.

But first … it’s crucial to note that abortion is still legal in Alabama.

The bill does not go into effect until six months after it was signed into law — November 15, 2019 — so if you’ve scheduled an appointment, are thinking about it, or may need to in the future, you have until at least November 15 to do so.

And, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood plan to file lawsuits, arguing that the bill is unconstitutional for challenging the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision — so that could buy several extra months or years before abortion is actually banned in Alabama. Generally speaking, judges have often prohibited anti-abortion laws from going into effect during such lawsuits.

What’s Inside the Bill?

And now, let’s turn to the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, aka the bill that — objectively speaking — prevents women from making their own decisions, by criminalizing abortion.

The bill, now law, does the following:

  • Outlaws abortion at every stage unless the abortion is performed to avoid a serious health risk — i.e., death or a “substantial physical impairment of a major bodily function”—such as seeing, walking, hearing, etc. — to the “unborn child’s mother,” or in instances of stillborn, to save the life/health of the “unborn child”, premature delivery, ectopic pregnancy, etc. In short, Alabama’s government is down with abortion but only if the woman would otherwise die or become disabled. How thoughtful.

By the way, this exception does not include rape or incest. Alabama state Dems tried to insert that provision, but they were defeated by Republicans. Terri Collins, the bill’s sponsor actually threatened to kill the bill if those words were added. Why? Because she thought that would be enough for the bill not to be taken up by the Supreme Court. State Senator Clyde Chambliss, another bill sponsor, also argued that the rape/incest exception should not be included because “when God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb, it is not our place as human beings to extinguish that life.”

Nor does the exception include mental or emotional health unless two physicians agree that the woman has a diagnosed serious mental illness and could commit suicide or kill the unborn child — in this instance, the abortion is considered “medically necessary.”

  • Defines woman — or “mother of unborn child” — as a female human being, whether or not she has reached the “age of majority,” which is 19 in Alabama. So it doesn’t matter if a 16-year old gets pregnant after being drugged and sexually assaulted at a party — she has to have the baby. Nor does it matter if a 12-year-old living in Montgomery is raped by her uncle — she has to have the baby. After all, according to the bill, women are essentially just “mothers of unborn children.”
  • Renders it unlawful for a physician to perform any abortions for any reason other than the exceptions above. And punishes physicians that do so.
    • Performing an abortion is a Class A felony. In Alabama, Class A means at least 10 years in jail, but could be up to 99 years.
    • Attempting to perform an abortion is a Class C felony. In Alabama, Class C means at least one year and one day in jail, but could be up to 10 years.
    • So, for example, under the law, a doctor performing an abortion would spend more time in prison than someone who committed second-degree rape, a Class B felony. In Alabama, a second-degree rape means that the offender is 16 or older and the victim is between the ages of 12-16.

Note: Unlike Georgia’s “heartbeat law”, technically speaking, the Alabama bill states that women cannot “be held criminally or civilly liable” — punished by law — for abortions.

And that’s it. This 10-page bill manages to erode decades worth of progress that reproductive rights advocates fought for, as well as completely annihilate the notion that women’s rights are human rights.

It’s not a new idea, though. As Governor Ivey said when signing the bill, “[it] closely resembles an abortion ban that has been a part of [AL] law for well over 100 years” — but that ban isn’t permitted because of Roe v. Wade.

Since this bill was signed into law right after the Georgia bill, people have been asking whether the Alabama law considers unborn fetuses persons and gives them the full legal rights that Georgia does.

The truth?

It’s tricky…but here we go.

During the November 2018 midterm elections, Alabama quietly passed a ballot amendment – known as the personhood amendment – that states that the Alabama constitution does not permit abortion nor require funding of abortion clinics, etc. The amendment also declares that the state “recognizes and supports the sanctity of unborn life and rights of unborn children.”

But, this has no legal implication … yet. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, however, then yes, unborn fetuses in Alabama would almost certainly have legal rights.

And speaking of Roe v. Wade …

Next Steps: The Supreme Court Battle (?)

Well, a Supreme Court battle is not the next step, but it’s almost certainly, as many anti-abortion/pro-lifers hope, the final step.

As Governor Ivey noted, the Alabama bill’s sponsors wrote a bill that would “bring about the best opportunity” to have the Supreme Court “revisit” Roe v. Wade. But the legal system is complicated and the abortion law will for sure be challenged in the lower courts before making it to the Supreme Court.

Here’s a fantastic/simple guide to the court process that Alabama’s law will likely undergo. However, the lower courts can’t overrule the Supreme Court — and since the Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that abortion should be considered a constitutional right until a fetus is considered viable – or able to live outside the woman, at generally 24-28 weeks — well, it’s a decision for SCOTUS to make.

The only option for the lower courts to review Alabama’s law is if six of the nine Supreme Court justices say the Court should not take up the case. Given that the Court is mostly conservative and pro-life, this is unlikely.

Note, however, that while Alabama’s anti-abortion law is super unconstitutional, a number of other state laws are also being challenged — and one of those cases could make it to the Supreme Court first. Overall, the odds of Roe v. Wade being reviewed are likely very high. But it’s important to note that it’s unlikely we would see a wholesale overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Instead, the Court is more likely to take a piecemeal approach to the issue, addressing each anti-abortion case as it comes and only reviewing the lower court’s decision — i.e., whether the lower court decided if the law in question was constitutional or not.

So until then, we wait, with angry signs, bursts of outrage and lots of tears. Three things to keep in mind in the meantime:

  • Federal elections are SUPER important, but state and local ones are too. The only way to ensure that human rights are protected is to vote for the people that protect them. So, yes, vote, but also do your homework. Lots of useful resources are out there, but here’s a list of current pro-choice candidates.
  • Donate, donate, donate. And that doesn’t have to mean money — your time is also incredibly valuable. Here’s a helpful list of abortion clinics and the like in each state. The people who are fighting for reproductive rights cannot afford to do so without help.
  • Keep paying attention. In our 24-hour news cycle, it can not only be super overwhelming to try and keep up with everything but also really easy to become distracted by a new issue and forget about the other one. Here’s your friendly reminder that there are hundreds of anti-abortion bills out there, and several are in danger of passing.

But this time, it has to be different. We have to be proactive; the consequences are simply too high to only be reactive. Our rights are under attack, and that should never become yesterday’s news.

Take Action!

Every person should have the right to make their own choice, and keeping abortion legal is an affirmation of equal rights. If you agree, sign this Care2 petition to keep abortion legal.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.

 

Photo Credit: Robin Marty/Flickr

44 comments

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson16 days ago

Thank you.

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Lara A
Lara A17 days ago

thanks

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Hannah A
Hannah A25 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Richard B
Richard B28 days ago

thank you

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Caitlin L
Caitlin L28 days ago

Thanks for posting

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Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan H29 days ago

thanks

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Ann B
Ann B29 days ago

it is a woman's body and HER CHOICE

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Sheila D
Sheila Dabout a month ago

I'd like to know where Chambliss got his information regarding God's word. I'd also like to know what they're doing about the rapists who are impregnating children. Anyone who thinks an 11 or 12 year old is mature enough to have a child without serious risk is not thinking clearly. These "Old White Men" are not doctors, have no idea how a woman's body works, and have no interest in babies after they're born. Unfortunately, anyone in Alabama who wants an abortion will probably be crossing state lines to get one.

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Winn A
Winn Adamsabout a month ago

Thanks

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Winn A
Winn Adamsabout a month ago

Talk about a state that needs to come out of the dark ages . . . . . . . .

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