ANTIABORTION ACTIVISTS in Alabama may have overplayed their hand in successfully pushing for legislation that would effectively ban all abortions in the state and criminalize the procedure for doctors who perform them. So extreme — to the point of cruelty — is the measure that some national Republican leaders are trying to distance themselves from it. So patently unconstitutional is the measure that it is unlikely to ever take effect or, as its architects hope, be taken up by the Supreme Court.
None of that, though, makes the legislation any less dangerous. It — and laws banning abortion as early as six weeks after gestation passed by other states — open up a new front in the nation’s long-running battle over women’s reproductive rights. Buoyed by how the Supreme Court has been reshaped by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s appointment, abortion opponents are adopting increasingly aggressive tactics.
“Why not go all the way?” was the rhetorical question posed by the founder of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, who helped craft the bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey (R). The bill is overarching in its restrictions: It bans abortions at every stage of pregnancy, subjects doctors who perform abortions to felony charges with sentences of up to 99 years in prison and provides no exceptions for rape or incest, only for cases in which the mother’s life is at serious risk. As has been pointed out, a man who raped and impregnated a woman could potentially face less time in prison than the doctor who performed a medical procedure to end the pregnancy.
Sadly, Alabama is not alone in its utter disregard for the trauma of women (and girls) who become pregnant as the result of rape or incest. Legislation passed in Missouri banning abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy also does not have a rape or incest exception.
Both measures — along with so-called heartbeat bills passed by other states, including Georgia, Ohio and Mississippi — are likely to be challenged on the grounds that they are in violation of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which says abortion is legal until the fetus is viable outside the womb, generally at 24 to 28 weeks. That, though, won’t disappoint proponents of the restrictive bills, because their clear aim is get a case to the Supreme Court and give the new conservative majority a chance to overturn Roe.
It’s always dangerous to predict what the court might do, but many observers think it’s more likely the court would act incrementally, taking and ruling on cases that undermine the right to abortion rather than toppling 50 years of precedent with one stroke. But either scenario would be a dangerous step backward, which is yet another reason the elections next year for the White House and Congress are so critical.