On Tuesday, May 14th, the Alabama State Senate approved a measure that would effectively outlaw the majority of abortions in the state.
This new legislation bans abortions at every stage of pregnancy. Doctors who attempt to perform an abortion on a patient face up to ten years in prison, while the completion of an abortion is a felony charge and could constitute up to a 99-year sentence. Those who have the procedure will not be prosecuted. The legislation has one exception: if the mother’s life is at serious risk, then she may receive an abortion. It is worth noting that there was an amendment proposed that would add exceptions to cases of rape and incest, but the amendment was turned down.
The measure directly challenges Roe. v. Wade, a 1937 Supreme Court case which recognized a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy, though some supporters of the measure feel that this challenge needs to happen. “Until now, there was no prospect of reversing Roe,” stated Eric Johnston, founder and current president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition. Johnston, along with those who first drafted the abortion ban, hope that the passing of this measure makes the Supreme Court reconsider the final verdict of Roe v. Wade. Alabama’s Lieutenant Governor, Will Ainsworth, publicly stated that “Roe must be challenged, and I am proud that Alabama is leading the way.”
According to Greg Reed, Republican Senator and State Senate majority leader, the measure “simply recognizes that an unborn baby is a child who deserves protection – and despite the best efforts of abortion proponents, this bill will become law because Alabamians stand firmly on the side of life.”
Democrats, pro-choice advocates, and others who oppose the new measure have vowed to challenge the bill in federal court if it becomes law. “We want abortions to be safe, and we want them to be few, but it should be legal, because there will be abortions,” stated Democratic Senator Linda Coleman-Madison. “The people who have the wherewithal will fly out of state. Not everyone can afford to do that.” Senator Coleman-Madison is one of four women on Alabama’s 35-person senate. Despite how sure Republicans and those in favor of the measure are that it will become law, many suspect that lower level courts would block the bill if taken to court.
Though Alabama is the first state to take abortion laws so far, it is far from the first to try and limit access to safe abortions. Governors in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio have signed fetal heartbeat bills. The fetal heartbeat bill bans any abortions that would occur past the point where a doctor can detect a heartbeat, which is generally within the first 6 weeks of pregnancy. Most women don’t know they they’re pregnant until much later.
The issue with this bill lies in the method by which we determine the length of pregnancy. Doctors use Naegele’s Rule, an almost 200-year-old calculation created by German obstetrician Franz Karl Naegele. The calculation starts with the first day of a person’s last menstrual cycle. The doctor counts back three calendar months from that date, then adds one year and seven days. Naegele’s Rule is proven to work, and is fairly accurate in terms of calculating a due-date, but the problem lies in the start-date of the pregnancy. By having the start of pregnancy be the first day of a woman’s last period, this adds onto the already short time-slot that women can get abortions in.
Despite this, more states plan to follow in Georgia’s footsteps by proposing fetal heartbeat laws. Arkansas has moved the cut-off for legal abortions from 20 weeks of pregnancy to 18 weeks.
People all across the country worry for the future of women’s healthcare as these laws are set into motion. In Georgia, the vagueness of the fetal heartbeat bill has left women wondering what kind of legal actions will be taken in the situation of a miscarriage. Those who try to leave their states to get a legal abortion face possible legal charges upon returning. With the arrests of doctors performing these procedures, and the status of felony over their heads, what’s going to happen to the future of women’s healthcare when it comes to voting; as a felon can not legally vote.
U.S. citizens need not fret just yet. More Democratic-leaning states are fighting back against the onslaught of anti-abortion laws. Vermont took steps towards a state constitutional amendment that ensures a “right to personal reproductive autonomy.” Andrew M. Cuomo, governor of New York, signed a measure in January that guarantees a “fundamental right” to abortion in the state of New York.
In regards to citizens in Alabama and Georgia, the measures being taken against abortion have not been set into motion yet. Georgia’s law will be enforceable in 2020, though “everyone in America expects it will be challenged in court before then. The courts may block it from being enforced in even 2020,” stated Mary Ziegler, professor at Florida State University College of Law and author of “After Roe: The Lost History of the Abortion Debate”.
Patients shouldn’t cancel their appointments yet, and those who are panicked “should know they have time,” according to Alexa Kolbi-Molinas of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. Molina’s is confident that the ACLU would be able to overturn these anti-abortion laws because of how they violate decades of Supreme Court laws.
Stace Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, wants to let people all across the country know that they still have time, and don’t have to worry just yet; “Compassionate, nonjudgmental care is still legal.”