Alabama Is One Of Many States Passing Abortion Restrictions This Year

May 15, 2019
Originally published on May 15, 2019 10:03 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Women in Alabama who want to get an abortion now face the most restrictive law in the country. Today Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law a bill that outlaws almost all forms of abortion.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Twenty-five ayes, six nays, one abstention. House Bill 314 passes.

CORNISH: The only exception to the law - if the life of the mother or the infant is in jeopardy. But Alabama's abortion bill has as much to do with trying to restrict access to abortion throughout the country as it does with limiting availability of the procedure in the state.

Mary Ziegler specializes in reproductive law at Florida State University College of Law. She joins us now via Skype. Welcome to the program.

MARY ZIEGLER: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: People are talking a lot about legal strategy when it comes to this bill. How does this bill in Alabama play into a larger effort when it comes to the anti-abortion movement?

ZIEGLER: Actually, it plays into one of several efforts. So at the moment, you can think of efforts to overturn Roe almost sort of like a menu - right? - where anti-abortion lawyers want to give the court as many different options as they can to overturn Roe.

This bill, I think, represents the point of view of the most optimistic and idealistic abortion opponents who think that the time has come immediately for the court to overturn Roe. And anti-abortion legislators in Alabama hope to do this by kind of forcing the court's hand - in other words, giving them a bill that would be impossible to uphold without overturning Roe.

CORNISH: So how likely is it that a challenge to this bill would even be taken up by the Supreme Court?

ZIEGLER: I don't think particularly likely. The current swing justice on the court is Chief Justice Roberts, who's made pretty apparent that he thinks the court's reputation matters tremendously and has actually pushed back when President Trump has described justices or judges as partisan. So I think for Roberts, if the moment is going to come to overturn Roe, there's going to have to be some show of respect for precedent first. And there'll probably be somewhat of an effort to manage or minimize political backlash to a decision.

It's hard to see a decision upholding this bill accomplishing either of those things. There's been no signal in recent Supreme Court precedents that the demise of Roe is coming soon, and it wouldn't exactly show respect for precedent to do something that quickly without even explaining your reasoning over the course of the series of decisions.

CORNISH: As we've mentioned, in the last several months, there have been several other states who have passed restrictive bills. Are there legal challenges to these bills that are making their way through the courts now that you're watching?

ZIEGLER: There are. I mean, almost all of these laws have been or will be challenged. They would take a while to get to the Supreme Court. It wouldn't, though, for the court to take up several other abortion restrictions, including one that passed in Indiana when Mike Pence was governor that bans abortions for cases of sex, race or disability selection. The court could also agree to hear a challenge to a Louisiana law involving admitting privileges at hospitals.

But those would come much sooner and, I think in many ways, would actually be more likely because it wouldn't require the court dismantle Roe in one fell swoop. It would be more kind of a death of a thousand cuts, which is the future we're much more likely to see, in my opinion.

CORNISH: Is there any precedent for this historically - other areas of the law where essentially there was a campaign of sorts through the states to get the Supreme Court to eventually take up an issue?

ZIEGLER: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's even a historical precedent when it comes to abortion. The last time we were in this position was not long after Anthony Kennedy joined the court. And abortion opponents expected the court to reverse Roe then, too. So even when we're talking about abortion, we're just at one point on the continuum in terms of efforts to undo Roe.

And then if you reach even further back, you can look at the desegregation of public schools. That took place through a litigation campaign that spanned decades. So it's quite common now actually that public interest law firms on the right and the left develop pretty sophisticated campaigns of this kind.

CORNISH: Mary Ziegler is a professor at the Florida State University College of Law. She's also author of the forthcoming book "Abortion In America: A Legal History." Thank you so much for speaking with us.

ZIEGLER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.