Pro-Choice Supporters Get Another Win in Alabama
Like Mississippi before it, Alabama is the latest state to push back against overarching restrictions on abortion care, keeping more clinics open.
By Diana Pearl
Abortion rights have seen some serious hits this year. Thanks to strict legislation, more and more clinics, especially in southern states, have closed their doors. However, supporters of this pro-life legislation have faced more losses than wins this month. Just over the past week or so, there's been a pushback against these stringent laws coming from the courts. Last week, three appellate court judges ruled against the passage of a law that would close Mississippi's last standing abortion clinic, effectively ruling out a woman's right to choose within the southern state's borders.
Alabama joined Mississippi's ranks this week when federal district judge Myron Thompson ruled that the state's Women's Health and Safety act, which had been made law last year, was in violation of a woman's constitutional rights. If it had remained in place, Alabama's law wouldn't have been quite as destructive as Mississippi's had the potential to be: It would have closed three of the state's five remaining active abortion clinics. Judge Thompson claimed the law's attitudes towards abortion creates a "climate of extreme hostility" that makes it much harder for the doctors performing abortions and women receiving them.
Strict regulations like this one, the overturned law in Mississippi, and Texas's famed HB1 bill from the summer of 2013 are just a few examples of legislation that works to undo the rights that Roe v. Wade put into place over forty years ago. Currently, there are five states that still have such comparable laws enacted: North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, and Utah. But as more and more states attempt to enact these sort of restrictions on abortion access, the more courts are starting to pushback against them, oftentimes under the argument that they violate a woman's constitutional rights. So far, two states besides Alabama and Mississippi have seen a overturning of abortion-limiting laws: Kansas and Wisconsin.
Proponents of the Mississippi law argued that women could visit a neighboring state that does have open abortion clinics. This isn't the first time a state has threatened to close off services to its inhabitants, using a nearby statess access to such services as a scapegoat. However, a 1938 Supreme Court ruling stated that "no state can be excused from performance by what another state may do or fail to do." While this ruling dealt with denying admission to a black man but offering him the money to fund his education elsewhere, the same logic applies here. Sending Mississippi women seeking abortions over to neighboring states is doubly unconstitutional, both under Roe v. Wade as well as this SCOTUS decree.
That's not even bringing the question of putting an "undue burden" on abortion clinics, which is forbidden by the Planned Parenthood v. Casey SCOTUS decision of 1992. Pushing women miles away from their homes, out of their state of residence qualified as "undue burden", Thompson said in his 172-page ruling.
Mississippi and Alabama may be making a turn towards further freedoms for women seeking abortions, but the fight for pro-choice rights nationwide is still going strong. Arizona looks to be the next state to cause an abortion legislation-fueled stir. The state's laws on abortion medications have earned them the title of the most restrictive in the nation. The state regulates the place and method for women taking abortion-inducing drugs, as well as restricts their use to the seventh week of pregnancy. After a debate between Planned Parenthood of Arizona and the Arizona courts, it's looking like the next step for the fight is to head to the Supreme Court.
When lawmakers pass legislation that threatens a woman's right to an abortion (protected by the Supreme Court, by the way), it is the courts that have the power to fight back against it. What's still to be seen is whether or not the court's actions in Mississippi and Alabama will cause a nationwide trickle of pushback against such laws.