Rights groups file lawsuit to block Alabama's new abortion ban

2019-05-25 19:55

A United States federal lawsuit filed on Friday asks a judge to block an Alabama law that bans nearly all abortions, the most far-reaching attempt by a conservative state to seek new restrictions on the procedure.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood filed the lawsuit on behalf of abortion providers seeking to overturn the Alabama law that would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for the abortion provider. The only exception would be when a woman's health is at serious risk. It does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

The law is set to take effect in November unless blocked by a judge.

"Make no mistake: Abortion remains - and will remain - safe and legal in Alabama. With this lawsuit, we are seeking a court order to make sure this law never takes effect," said Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama.

The lawsuit says the Alabama law to criminalise abortion is clearly unconstitutional and would harm women by forcing them to continue pregnancies against their will.

"For over 46 years - since the Supreme Court decided Roe v Wade - US law has recognised the fundamental constitutional right to make the profoundly important and personal decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy," the lawsuit reads.

The plaintiffs in the case are the three Alabama clinics that perform abortions, Planned Parenthood and Dr Yashica Robinson, an obstetrician who also provides abortions at a Huntsville clinic. 

17 bans

Emboldened by new conservatives on the US Supreme Court, Alabama is part of a wave of conservative states seeking to mount new legal challenges to Roe v Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion nationwide.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy organisation, nearly 380 abortion restrictions were introduced across the country between January 1 and May 20. About 40 percent of the proposals have been abortion bans.

The Guttmacher Institute has also found that 17 bans have been enacted across 10 states so far this year.

"It is not unusual to see hundreds of abortion restrictions introduced every year, but this high proportion of proposed bans is unprecedented, signaling a substantial shift in tactics at the state level," the organisation recently said on its website.

Governors in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. 

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None of the laws has taken effect and all are expected to be blocked by the courts as the legal challenges play out with an ultimate eye on the Supreme Court.

Friday's lawsuit notes that supporters of the Alabama law have acknowledged it is unconstitutional under current Supreme Court precedent.

Supporters of the Alabama law have said they expected a lawsuit and expected to initially lose in court, but they hope the appeal could eventually land before the US Supreme Court.

"My goal with this bill, and I think all of our goals, is to have Roe versus Wade turned over and that decision ability sent back to the states," Republican Representative Terri Collins, the bill's sponsor said when it passed last week. 

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