Antiabortion measures may lead to Supreme Court showdown


he debate over abortion rights could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court after two recent state measures that aim to restrict access to abortion.

On May 7, 2019, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed into law a statute that bars physicians from performing an abortion after a heartbeat is detected – usually at about 6 weeks of pregnancy. The law allows exceptions if the pregnancy poses death or serious harm to the woman, and in cases of rape or incest.

A week later, the Alabama Senate on May 14 approved a measure that would ban abortion at every pregnancy stage and penalize physicians with a Class A felony for performing an abortion and charge them with a Class C felony for attempting to perform an abortion. The Alabama bill includes an exception if a woman’s life is at risk, but not for cases of rape or incest. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed the bill into law on May 15.

Both measures will likely be challenged in court; the Alabama law, in particular, could land in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Abortion critics have been encouraged by the Supreme Court appointment of right-leaning Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and hope the Alabama measure will drive the Supreme Court to reconsider its central holding in Roe, according to Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, a liberal-leaning legal firm that advocates gender equality.

“After decades of chipping away at Roe, antiabortion legislators and advocates are feeling emboldened with the addition of Justice Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and they are exposing their true goal – to ban abortion altogether,” Ms. Graves said in a statement. “And make no mistake, [passage of the Alabama bill] is extreme overreach: The vast majority of people in this country do not support criminalizing women or doctors and want abortion to be safe and legal.”

National antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List called Alabama’s measure a landmark victory and indicated that the bill passage may ultimately change the outcome of Roe v. Wade.

“Across the nation there is growing momentum, informed by science and compassion, and spurred on in reaction to abortion extremism in New York and Virginia, to recognize the humanity of the unborn child in the law,” Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “It is clearer than ever that Roe is far from being settled law in the eyes and hearts of the American people, and this is increasingly reflected in state legislatures. ... The time is coming for the Supreme Court to let that debate go forward.”

Other states have recently passed laws similar to Georgia’s measure, dubbed the “fetal heartbeat bills,” including Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio.

On May 15, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio issued a joint legal challenge against Ohio’s law, calling it blatantly unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the Center for Reproductive Rights has pledged to sue Georgia over its law.

Ted Anderson, MD, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the many recent restrictions to abortion access across the country are harmful to women’s health and detrimental to the physician-patient relationship.

“Lawmakers must support health policies based on sound science and evidence. Politicians must seek to improve access to care, not restrict it,” Dr. Anderson said in a statement. “Legislative restrictions fundamentally interfere with the patient-provider relationship and decrease access to necessary care for all women, and particularly for low-income women and those living long distances from health care providers. Health care decisions should be made jointly only by patients and their trusted health care professionals, not by politicians.”

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