Following the move to recognize "the rights of unborn children, including the right to life" in the Alabama state constitution in the November midterms, a judge decided Tuesday that both a man and a fetus' estate can sue an abortion clinic. Abortion rights advocates say the ruling puts a woman's rights in third place behind the man who impregnated her and the fetus.
The man who impregnated the woman in this case, Ryan Magers, says he is pursuing the case for "men who actually want to have their baby." His lawyers petitioned in January to represent the estate of the fetus that his ex-girlfriend medically aborted in February 2017 against his wishes, according to court papers.
Madison County Probate Judge Frank Barger granted permission for Magers' attorney Brent Helms to represent the fetus' estate in the case. "The only thing that estate has is the right to sue, and so that is what Ryan is doing," Helms said. That may be the first time that a fetus' estate has sued an abortion clinic in the country. Under another law in Alabama that was struck down by federal courts in 2017, fetuses could be represented in trials for minors seeking abortions.
The court papers show that Helms and Magers are trying to sue the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville, three unnamed clinic employees, and the pharmaceutical company that produced the medical abortion pill for wrongful death. Throughout the court papers, the woman he impregnated is referred to as "the Mother" and the fetus as "Baby Roe."
NARAL President Ilyse Hogue tweeted, "Very scary case." NARAL's Twitter account posted that "an Alabama court asserted that a pregnant person’s rights are third in line — AFTER the person who impregnated them and AFTER the fetus. This is the reality of the anti-choice movement's goal of punishing women."
Helms thinks abortion can be eliminated in Alabama as a result of the case. "If wrongful death is granted in this case, then I would not foresee any abortion clinic or even manufacturer of an abortion pill wanting to come to the state of Alabama because they could be held liable for the killing or the termination of the life of a fetus," Helms told The Cut.
Legal experts don't necessarily agree, though. The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that adult women don't even need to inform the man who impregnated them that they're getting an abortion — let alone get permission (even if it's a spouse).
Lucinda Finley, a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law, told The Daily Beast that the law is just not on Magers' side. "He may deeply, emotionally, fervently wish that his girlfriend had accepted his pleas to not have an abortion, but she didn’t," Finley told The Daily Beast. "And U.S. constitutional law says it’s her decision, not his."
The next step in the case is for the defendants to submit their responses to the suit by April 1.