Alabama Lawmakers Vote To Outlaw Almost All Forms Of Abortion

May 15, 2019
Originally published on May 15, 2019 8:03 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we're going to dig into some more specifics about the Alabama abortion bill and the reaction to it with NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So as we just heard, there have been several bills attempting to restrict access to abortion. How does the Alabama one compare to other legislation that's been pushed forward this year?

MCCAMMON: Well, it's more restrictive, even, than some of the other laws we've seen state legislatures pass that have generated a lot of controversy. So four states - Ohio, Georgia and Mississippi and Kentucky - have passed laws just this year banning abortion as soon as an embryonic heartbeat can be detected or about six weeks before many women know they're pregnant. Last year, a similar law in Iowa was thrown out in court. And these laws are facing legal challenges as well. None of them are in effect yet, but this Alabama bill makes abortion at any stage a felony. And while it doesn't punish women who seek abortions, doctors could go to prison for up to 99 years. It also does not contain any exceptions for rape or incest.

SHAPIRO: Explain the thinking behind a bill that goes so far with so few exceptions.

MCCAMMON: Well, supporters say it's written to send the message that a fetus is a full human life. And that means almost no exceptions except when there's a serious health risk to the pregnant woman. Anti-abortion rights groups are celebrating this bill. The Susan B. Anthony List called it a landmark victory for the people of Alabama. And Steve Aden, an attorney with Americans United for Life, says states are feeling emboldened to pass increasingly restrictive laws these days.

STEVE ADEN: The U.S. Supreme Court now has five members that constitute a majority of justices who are no longer committed to the legal standard of abortion on demand that Roe vs. Wade articulated. And they'd like to see the court review that jurisprudence and reconsider whether the Constitution does or does not allow states to protect human life in the womb.

MCCAMMON: And supporters of this Alabama legislation have made it clear that they do want it to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

SHAPIRO: What have opponents of the bill - abortion rights supporters - been saying? How have they responded to this?

MCCAMMON: Abortion rights advocates are very concerned about this bill in Alabama and this larger trend of restricting abortion earlier and earlier in pregnancy. Multiple Democratic presidential candidates have spoken out against the Alabama bill today. And I spoke earlier with Andi Lawhead of the reproductive rights group URGE in Alabama.

ANDI LAWHEAD: What it's going to mean is that some people in Alabama simply won't be able to get an abortion right. Other folks are going to have to travel outside of the state - sometimes very far out of the state - to obtain an abortion procedure. And other folks will end up - they'll just have to do what they need to do to take care of themselves.

MCCAMMON: Lawhead says that could mean, for example, self-induced abortion. Meanwhile, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have promised to fight it in court if it's signed into law. But Ari, I have spoken with several reproductive rights groups who say they don't actually think this bill is likely to make it very far in the courts. They see it as obviously unconstitutional and out of step with the Roe v. Wade decision. But they are concerned to see more and more states being willing to pass increasingly restrictive abortion laws. And they say that it's hard to predict what exactly the Supreme Court might eventually do in the long term.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon talking with us through a bit of a cold. Hope you feel better, Sarah. Thanks.

MCCAMMON: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.