Alabama, the Pro-Life Bill Palooza, and the Challenge of Roe v. Wade

Alex Skelley

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The Bills:

On May 7, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed into law the “Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act.” The bill bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, and recognizes the fetus as a natural person. It provides no exception for rape or incest. It does give an exception for cases where the mother’s life is in danger. This bill is huge. Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio have already passed similar bills, but this is the one that has sparked a wave.

On May 15, eight days after the Georgia bill was passed, Alabama Governor Kim Ivey signed into law Alabama’s own abortion bill. The bill criminalizes abortion after conception, and in all cases, except where the mother’s life is in danger. The bill, known as “The Alabama Human Life Protection Act,” gives Alabama the strictest abortion laws in the United States. Despite what has been said in the news, women will not go to jail for 99 years following an abortion. The bill does not hold women criminally or civilly liable for the crime h;However, any doctor that violates these new laws faces up to 99 years in prison. 

On May 16, the Missouri State Senate voted to pass the “Missouri Stands with the Unborn Act.” This bill bans abortion after eight weeks with no exception, other than medical emergencies. It now heads to the House where it will most likely, again, be passed. The bill is expected to be signed into law by Governor Mike Parson.

Back in April, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed into law a bill restricting abortion. The law will ban abortions after six weeks, when a heartbeat can be detected, and only provides an exception for instances where the mother’s life is in danger. The bill is set to go into effect in July.

As stated above, Kentucky and Mississippi also passed similar bills. While these bills were signed into laws, they have been blocked and struck down as unconstitutional by the states’ respective supreme courts.

What this means:

In the span of a month, we’ve seen three of the strongest anti-abortion bills ever to sweep the nation. We’ve also had three bills come before them. Since the Supreme Court Cases of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, support and opposition to abortion has steadied to around 50-50. The ruling of those two cases basically says that the states cannot prohibit abortion before 20 weeks gestation. These bills are significant because they are directly defying those rulings.

The big question is why are all these bills coming now? One big reason for this is that at the State of the Union, President Trump called for limitations on abortion. Also, with the supreme court leaning 5-4 conservative, and with another conservative justice likely to be appointed by Trump, conservatives and Pro-Lifers are seeing this as a great opportunity to challenge the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade.

The significance of this defiance of court rulings is monumental. These bills put the future of abortion and its legality in jeopardy.

The Alabama Bill:

The Alabama bill is by far is the strictest, as well as the most important. While lawmakers claim they have no ulterior intentions, this law is set up to be the perfect challenge to the rulings of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. First, it’s important to know the history of Roe v. Wade.

In 1973, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Texas law banning abortion, ruling it unconstitutional, 7-2. The entire decision is based around the right to privacy. The court asserted that wherever the right to privacy is found in the constitution, it does protect a woman’s right to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, stating the following: “This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or … in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” — Roe, 410 U.S. at 153.

The court stated that outlawing abortion would infringe on the woman’s right to privacy in the following ways:

A woman may be forced into a distressful life and future, psychological harm may occur, caring for the child may tax the mother’s physical and mental health, and there may be distress for all concerned with the child.

After asserting the right to privacy, the court then stated that states are allowed to limit abortion based on two interests: protecting the life of the mother and protecting the life or potential life of the unborn child. The court then went on the reject Texas’ assertion that life begins at conception, and refused to resolve the question of where life begins and when rights are bestowed. “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, in this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”

The final part of the decision was to solve the problem of finding where states could start to outlaw abortion. To do this, they implemented the trimester framework. Since the beginning of the third trimester is where viability is recognized, the court found that states could prohibit all abortions after that point, except where the mother’s life is in danger.

In 1992, the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey was decided. This case involved a number of Pennsylvania Abortion Restrictions being challenged. The Supreme Court decided to uphold the right to abortion, while altering the trimester rule. The court ruled the states can regulate abortion at any point from fetal viability, as well as before fetal viability as long as the regulations do not place an undue burden on the woman. Lastly, the court again neglected to establish or recognize a point at which human life begins.

The big takeaway from these cases is that they restrict a state’s right to regulate abortion, establish abortion as a constitutional right protected by the right to privacy, and neglect to establish a point at which life begins.

The reason the Alabama bill is so important is because it’s basically a direct challenge to these rulings. First, it defines an unborn child at any stage of development as a person. It does this for homicide purposes, which means that it’s a felony to kill the unborn child at any stage of development, except when the mother’s life is in danger. It asserts that the right to privacy of the mother does not supersede the unalienable right to life possessed by the unborn child. This is in direct opposition to the court refusing to recognize a point at which life begins, as well as the trimester and undue burden framework. This, along with recognizing the unborn child as a person with rights, challenges the heart of Roe and Casey. Since the court refused to recognize a point at which life begins and rights are retained, the court was able to rule that the right to privacy covers abortion as you’re not violating someone else’s more important right to life. Since Alabama is recognizing conception as the point where life begins, they’re asserting that the right to privacy does not cover abortion, as the right to life is unalienable, and thus more important. If life does begin at conception, then this is legally correct. 

The chances are high that this law will be challenged, most likely making it all the way to the Supreme Court. If a case were to reach the Supreme Court, it would be one of the most significant rulings in the history of the United States. While the Supreme Court leans 5-4 conservative, the ruling can realistically go either way.

The Pro-Life Side:

Pro-Lifers are ecstatic about these bills. On January 12 of this year, over a quarter of a million people gathered in Washington D.C. for the March for Life. A Pro-Life stance is typically a stance that opposes abortion, the legality of abortion, and or favors abortion restrictions. Most Pro-Lifers believe that life begins at conception, and that abortion is immoral. Pro-Lifers see these bill’s as a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. They believe that the 61 million abortions in the United States, since Roe, are tantamount to genocide. They believe that the right to life is the most sacred and unalienable right, and are horrified at the idea of abortion. 

The Pro-Choice Side:

People who are Pro-Choice are outraged at these bills. Some recognize the fetus as having rights, but most don’t. Despite this, all Pro-Choice people see abortion as one of the most intimate decisions a woman can make in her life, and therefore, one protected by the right to privacy. Most Pro-Choice people believe that since having a child is such a significant event, women should be allowed to choose whether or not she carries her pregnancy to term. Lastly, Pro-Choice people believe that since pregnancy deals directly with a woman’s body, she should control and choose what happens to her body. Not all Pro-Choicers support the action of abortion, some just support letting women have the choice.

Concluding:

These cases are extremely important. The future of abortion in the United States is hanging in the balance. It’s almost without a doubt that the cases of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey will be challenged. On one side, you have women’s rights, and on the other, the possible right to life of the fetus. It’s no surprise that the issue of abortion is such a hot-button topic. The right to privacy and the right to life are two of the most important rights we are endowed with. Whether you’re Pro-Choice or Pro-Life, it’s important to recognize how significant this moment is. It’s imperative that each and every one of us educates ourselves, and weigh in on this decision, as that’s the only way we’ll be able to come to a consensus.