Supporters want legal challenges to force justices to revisit Roe ruling
When and if the Supreme Court does agree to hear a challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Republican state Rep. Terri Collins wants to see it come from Alabama.
Her bill effectively banning abortion in nearly all circumstances was signed Wednesday by Gov. Kay Ivey, making Alabama one of almost a dozen states this year to approve sweeping pro-life legislation as Republicans jump on the overturn-Roe bandwagon barreling toward the Supreme Court.
Such bills have hardly any chance of surviving the inevitable lower-court challenges, but that’s the point. Republican lawmakers are spoiling for a legal fight, hoping their state’s pro-life bill will become the vehicle for the high court’s 5-4 conservative majority to put the brakes on Roe.
“States are actually rushing to become that first state to become abortion-free,” said Kristan Hawkins, presidents of Students for Life of America. “They’re trying to outcompete each other. And this is actually a good thing for us, that we’ve got so many cases.”
The Alabama bill, which won final passage Tuesday in the state House as the most restrictive in the nation, prohibits abortion except in cases when the life of the mother is in danger or pregnancy poses a “serious health risk.” Its sponsor, Ms. Collins, beat back attempts to add rape and incest exceptions, arguing that the bill needed to be as “clean” as possible for the courts.
“My goal with this bill, and I think all of our goal, is to have Roe v. Wade turned over, and that decision be sent back to the states so that we can come up with our laws that address and include amendments and things that address those issues,” Ms. Collins said at a Wednesday press conference.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland joined other Democrats in denouncing the abortion measures, accusing Republican state legislatures of trying to one-up one another with ever more restrictive bills.
“These laws are part of a systematic effort by Republican lawmakers around the country to outdo each other with how restrictive they can be in taking away reproductive choice for women with the goal of undermining Roe v. Wade,” Mr. Hoyer said in a statement.
Hot on Alabama’s heels are Louisiana and Missouri. Both state legislatures took up bills Wednesday to prohibit abortion after the fetal heartbeat can be detected, typically at six to eight weeks of gestation, which have already been signed this year in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio.
None of those bills has taken effect. The Kentucky bill was blocked by a judge March 15, shortly after it was signed by Gov. Matt Bevin. Another Kentucky measure banning second-trimester “dilation and evacuation” procedures was halted by a federal judge last week.
“We profoundly disagree with the court’s decision and will take this case all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, to protect unborn children from being dismembered limb by limb while still alive,” Bevin spokeswoman Elizabeth Goss Kuhn said in a statement.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson cheered pro-life state legislators as the Senate considered the measure, which would also ban abortions based on race, sex and potential for Down syndrome.
“It’s time to make Missouri the most Pro-Life state in the country!” tweeted the Republican governor. “Thanks to leaders in the House and Senate, we are one vote away from passing one of the strongest #ProLife bills in the country — standing for life, protecting women’s health, and advocating for the unborn.”
The legislative surge behind bills sharply curtailing abortion access comes despite enormous opposition from powerful pro-choice groups such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, which have vowed to defeat the bills in court, and Democrats stunned by the momentum.
“It’s kind of chilling what’s happening nationally, including Wisconsin,” said Gordon Hintz, the Democratic minority leader in Wisconsin’s state Assembly.
Democrats have made it clear that they plan to leverage the issue in the 2020 campaign.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, announced that she was going to Georgia to “fight back, hard on the front lines” as part of her presidential primary bid.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said the bills show the urgency of taking back the Senate “to protect the Supreme Court and defend Roe v. Wade” from President Trump, who has appointed two conservative justices in his first term.
“This isn’t a scene from ‘ The Handmaid’s Tale.’ This is happening in Alabama — in our country — in the year 2019,” Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat and a 2020 presidential primary contender, said in a fundraising plea on behalf of pro-choice groups.
In her signing statement in Alabama, Ms. Ivey acknowledged that the bill may be “unenforceable” and that “we must always respect the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court even when we disagree with their decisions.”
“Many Americans, myself included, disagreed when Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973,” said the governor. “The sponsors of this bill believe that it is time, once again, for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit this important matter, and they believe this act may bring about the best opportunity for this to occur.”
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Southeast President and CEO Staci Fox said her organization would challenge the measure, which makes it a felony to perform abortions except to “prevent a serious health risk” to the pregnant woman. Doctors found in violation could face up to 99 years in prison.
“We vowed to fight this dangerous abortion ban every step of the way and we meant what we said,” Ms. Fox said in a statement. “We haven’t lost a case in Alabama yet and we don’t plan to start now.”
Whether this year’s round of bills will pass Supreme Court muster is another question. While some Republicans argue that the heartbeat bills are the ideal test cases, Americans United for Life senior counsel Clarke D. Forsythe disagreed.
He said less-restrictive measures such as pain-capable bills, which prohibit abortions after the fetus is able to feel pain at about 20 weeks of gestation, may be more advantageous. Such bills have passed in 21 states.
“The heartbeat bill or an earlier prohibition such as Alabama’s might be the least attractive to the court,” Mr. Forsythe said.
He argued that the court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has shown that it prefers incremental action in previous abortion cases. In addition, the court may want to take up measures with more public support, such as the pain-capable bills.
“Certainly legal notions about legitimacy are going to be present in any case re-examining Roe,” Mr. Forsythe said.
Ms. Hawkins said such differences of opinion are inevitable as red states chart their own courses.
“There’s a lot of different legal strategies here, and there’s not one group at the helm directing all these,” said Ms. Hawkins. “I’m not worried. I’m watchful to see which case the Supreme Court does pick up.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill Wednesday that virtually outlaws abortion in the state. Supporters hope challenges to the law will go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.