Alabama has joined several other states in the fight to implement stricter anti-abortion laws.
On May 14, Alabama’s Republican-led Senate voted 25-6 in favor of House Bill 314, a bill that will make abortion a Class A felony and attempted abortion a Class C felony in the state of Alabama. In this bill, any doctor found performing abortions could be sentenced for up to 99 years in prison.
However, regarding the female patient, the bill also states “…that a woman who receives an abortion will not be held criminally culpable or civilly liable for receiving the abortion.”
HB 314 allows exceptions “in cases where abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.” Examples of situations that are exempt from HB 314 include “ectopic pregnancies, deadly fetal abnormalities and risk to a pregnant woman’s life.”
In a controversial 11-21 vote, an amendment was denied by the Senate to also allow an exception for cases involving rape or incest.
This recent ruling by the Alabama Senate was preceded by the rise of the fetal heartbeat bills from states such as Georgia, Ohio and Mississippi.
On May 7, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 481, the Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act (LIFE), a law that prohibits abortion as soon as physicians are able to detect a heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy.
In cases such as rape or incest, physicians would be permitted to perform an abortion up to the 20-week mark of a woman’s pregnancy, but only if the victim has filed the correlating police report. The other exception is similar to the recent Alabama bill in which an abortion can be performed if there is medical risk to the fetus or to the mother.
Challenging Roe v. Wade
As of May 20, abortion is still legal in every state. However, the long-term goal has not been met.
In addition to creating stricter abortion laws, state legislatures are gearing up for the fight towards the long-term goal: the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that protects a woman’s right to choose whether or not she has an abortion.
In an interview with Fortune, Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University, states that the Alabama law in particular is intended to be “purposefully extreme.” The Alabama state legislature wants HB 314 to be challenged in order to have the courts reconsider the Roe v. Wade precedent.
Although the long-term goal is to outlaw abortion across all fifty states, it is to be believed that the Supreme Court would rather chip away at previous interpretations of the ruling rather than dismantle the Roe v. Wade ruling entirely.
Robert Nagel, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Colorado, concludes that the Supreme Court will side with the importance of precedent rather than overturning Roe v. Wade.
Abortion in Utah
What is the Utah Legislature doing in regard to the rise of the fetal heartbeat bills?
Currently, the State of Utah is embroiled in a legal battle with Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and the American Civil Liberties Union over the newly-passed House Bill 136, which prohibits abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy. This bill allows for exceptions in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal defects, and if the life of the mother is at risk.
Due to the ongoing legal battle, HB 136 is not being enforced at the current time.
HB 136 also coincides with other restrictive abortion policies that are currently enacted in the state of Utah. As of 2019, Utah state law requires people seeking an abortion to complete a mandatory information module along with a face-to-face informed consent session, and then wait for 72 hours.
The last bill that came across the Utah State Legislature was Senate Bill 234 in 2016, a bill that “requires a physician who performs an abortion of an unborn child who is at least 20 weeks gestational age to administer an anesthetic or analgesic to eliminate or alleviate organic pain to the unborn child.” This was the first law of its kind in the United States.
In spite of the rise of Alabama’s controversial HB 314, Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, believes that a similar law will not come to fruition in Utah due to the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
According to the church’s overview on the topic of abortion, church leaders have granted exceptions in the result of rape, incest, or health risk either to the mother or the fetus. Although the church makes note for the person to consult church leaders or receive confirmation from Heavenly Father before going forward with the decision.