The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

American Civil Liberties Union sues Alabama over near-total abortion ban

The law would criminalize abortion in almost all circumstances

Thousands across the country in May decried restrictive new abortion laws in Georgia and Alabama. A similar law is headed to the Missouri governor’s desk. (Video: The Washington Post)

The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday filed suit on behalf of abortion clinics against the state of Alabama to block the most restrictive abortion law in the nation.

The near-total ban, signed by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on May 15, would criminalize abortion in almost all circumstances — including cases of rape and incest — and punish doctors with up to 99 years in prison. Without any challenges, the law was set to go into effect in as soon as six months.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, sets off a chain of events that both sides say is likely to lead to a years-long court battle. State lawmakers have said they passed the law specifically to bring the case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which they see as having the most antiabortion bench in decades. The bill was designed to challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by arguing that a fetus is a person and is therefore due full rights.

In the filing, Yashica Robinson, a doctor at the Alabama Women’s Center — one of four abortion providers in the state — argues that the law “directly conflicts with Roe and more than four decades of Supreme Court precedent affirming its central holding.”

Such a ban would inflict immediate and irreparable harm on patients “by violating their constitutional rights, threatening their health and well-being, and forcing them to continue their pregnancies to term against their will,” Robinson argued.

The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Planned Parenthood Southeast, Reproductive Health Services and West Alabama Women’s Center on behalf of themselves, their patients and physicians.

Over a dozen antiabortion bills are being pushed in other states, but none are as restrictive as Alabama’s.

The Alabama bill would allow a doctor to terminate a pregnancy only when the mother’s life is in danger or when the fetus has a “lethal anomaly,” defined in the bill as a condition “from which an unborn child would die after birth or shortly thereafter or be stillborn.”

On Friday, state Rep. Terri Collins, a Republican from Decatur who sponsored the bill, said that the lawsuit “is simply the first battle in what we hope will ultimately be a victorious effort to overturn Roe and protect unborn babies from harm.”

Eric Johnston, founder and president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition and who helped write the bill, denied that the law would lead to obstetricians being investigated or prosecuted for caring for a woman who is having a miscarriage, and that it would “absolutely not” affect in vitro fertilization, Plan B or emergency contraception.

“I had hours and hours of consultation with the lawyers from the medical association and the hospital association to be sure that the language was such so it would not endanger doctors doing normal medical practice,” Johnston said.

Last week in Montgomery, Republican lawmakers and antiabortion activists celebrated the Alabama vote as a victory for their movement and a step toward a national legal battle over abortion.

The bill passed easily after more than four hours of debate. The chamber’s small group of Democrats spoke passionately on the Senate floor, decrying a bill they said would force crime victims who suffer rapes and incest to give birth to babies that are the progeny of their attackers. They said the anticipated lawsuits over the bill would be a waste of taxpayer money when the state’s schools are the lowest performing in the country, and that the state should invest instead in education and health care for children that were already born.

The GOP-dominated Senate voted down an amendment that would have added exceptions for rape and incest — although four Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the amendment, some of whom had said they were having trouble with the idea of an absolute ban on abortion.

Chip Brownlee contributed to this report.

Read more:

Georgia governor signs ‘heartbeat bill,’ giving the state one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation

Trump touts new faith-based protections for health-care workers at National Day of Prayer ceremony

Could miscarriages land women in jail? Let’s clarify these Georgia and Alabama abortion bills.