Federal Judge Rules Alabama's Anti-Abortion Laws Are "Unconstitutional" & Saved 2 Clinics From Shutting Down
Reproductive rights advocates had a reason to celebrate on Thursday when a federal judge blocked two abortion restrictions in Alabama. One prevented clinics from operating abortions within 2,000 feet from public schools, signed into law after abortion opponents claimed a Huntsville abortion clinic and demonstrations there disrupted students attending nearby schools. The other law banned dilation and evacuation, a procedure commonly used to terminate pregnancies in the second trimester.
Former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed the two laws in May 2016. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson declared both laws were "unconstitutional" and would place "undue burden on a woman's ability to choose an abortion."
Thompson wrote in his decision that there was no evidence that the Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Alternatives concerned the schools' students or parents. He also wrote that the closure or relocation of the that clinic, located in Huntsville, would neither minimize disruption nor hinder a parent's right to control their children's exposure to the subject of abortion. The Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Alternatives sits near an elementary school and across the street from a magnet school. Local Rev. James Henderson and other anti-abortion protesters have clashed with patients and escorts coming in and out of the clinic.
Thompson also struck down the law banning a safe and common procedure for second trimester abortions. Anti-abortion activists have dubbed the dilation and evacuation method with the non-medical term "dismemberment abortion." The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement opposing such bans that "represent legislative interference at its worst: doctors will be forced, by ill-advised, unscientifically motivated policy, to provide lesser care to patients."
Had Thompson ruled in favor of the laws, Alabama would have to close two abortion clinics, the one in Huntsville and one in Tuscaloosa, leaving only three remaining in the state. Doctors perform 72 percent of the state's abortions at the two clinics that were on the chopping block. The limited options would disproportionately affect low-income women who would have to drive further away or out of state to get abortions, Thompson wrote.
Thompson's decision comes just a few months after a federal judge struck down a previous abortion restriction in the state as unconstitutional. Alabama law requires that a minor either have parental consent for an abortion or a court order to bypass parental consent. Usually a judge and the minor's lawyer is involved in the legal process, where the bypass court determines if the minor is mature and well-informed enough to make a decision.
Judge Susan Walker struck down 2014 amendments to that law that gave the court power to appoint a legal representative for the fetus. The amendments also required a district attorney to be involved, and permitted the abortion seeker's parents or guardians at the hearing. All involved parties, including the fetus' representative ad litem, would be allowed to call witnesses to testify for or against the minor's choice.
Reproductive rights advocates and the judge argued that adding more people to the process violated the minor's privacy. "The bypass court is hardly the appropriate setting for such counseling, in any event; it is neither a physician's office, nor a classroom, nor any other such place of instruction or guidance," Walker wrote.
Alabama is not the only state dealing with attempts to chip away at Roe v. Wade. Legislation in Texas — which used to have more than 40 abortion clinics — set up tight measures that eventually forced several clinics to shut down. By the time the restrictions reached the Supreme Court, where they were ultimately struck down, Texas had only 19 abortion clinics.
As of August 2017, seven states have only one abortion clinic: Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming. And while conservative states have garnered the most attention in such cases, abortion clinics are disappearing in liberal states as well.