Restrictive abortion laws recently passed by lawmakers in Georgia and Alabama are extreme in their dehumanization of women, removing their reproductive rights and turning them, essentially, into vessels for carrying unborn babies to term.
Alabama lawmakers passed a bill that bans nearly all abortions. It awaits the governor’s signature. Last week, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law that bans abortions after a heartbeat is detected, at about six weeks, which is before many women know they are pregnant. The law also criminalizes some miscarriages and would require jail time for women who travel to another state to have an abortion.
The laws are unlikely to go into effect as federal courts are likely to strike them down, as they have done in other states, such as Ohio. Because they are so restrictive, judges are apt to find that they conflict with the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which said women have a constitutional right to abortion.
Instigating these court fights is one of the stated motivations behind these laws. Conservative leaders in Georgia and Alabama want to limit women’s access to abortion in their states, but they also have a broader goal in mind — to make abortion illegal for all women in the U.S. The recently passed laws are, they hope, a ticket to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This bill is about challenging Roe v. Wade and protecting the lives of the unborn because an unborn baby is a person who deserves love and protection,” Alabama state Rep. Terri Collins, the Republican sponsor of that state’s bill, said after the Senate vote Tuesday night.
“This is the way we get where we want to get eventually,” she added.
“This is a very important piece of legislation,” Alabama state Sen. Clyde Chambliss, a Republican, said at a National Day of Prayer Service last week in Wetumpka, Alabama. “Our Alabama House of Representatives has passed a bill that would directly challenge Roe v. Wade. It is a direct plan to challenge Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. I would like for you all to pray for that.”
These assessments of the most recent restrictive state abortion laws as a means to get to the Supreme Court is shared by opponents of the measures as well.
“Each state is trying to out-crazy the other, because they all want to be the one to get in front of the Supreme Court,” Georgia state Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat, told NBC News.
The extreme nature of these laws, however, could actually make the Supreme Court less likely to consider them, say long-time court watchers.
“I don’t think these laws per se are challenges to Roe because they’re so extreme. I actually think the challenge to Roe will come with ostensibly milder measures that will let the courts find cover in seeming not to be extreme,” Linda Greenhouse, who covered the court for decades and is now a lecturer at Yale Law School, told The New Yorker.
Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel for the anti-abortion rights group Americans United For Life, also questioned whether some of the more recent state laws limiting abortion were a viable vehicle for the court to re-examine Roe v. Wade.
“If [the Supreme Court] is not interested in hearing a second-trimester prohibition, it’s probably not interested in hearing a first-trimester prohibition,” Forsythe told NBC News. He noted that the court has already declined to hear two cases involving state limits on abortions, even though restrictions were upheld in one case and overturned in the other. The Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal of a lower court order invalidating a North Dakota “heartbeat” law. But it also declined to hear a case challenging restrictions on medication abortion in Arkansas.
As these legal battles are waged, it is important to consider that the majority of Americans support a woman’s right to an abortion and that many states, including Maine, are protecting and even expanding that right. Maine lawmakers have given initial approval to a bill to require coverage of abortion by private insurers and MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, if those policies cover maternity care. Gov. Janet Mills supports the measure, along with a bill that would expand the types of medical providers who can perform abortions.
This is a significant reminder that access to an abortion, while controversial to some, remains a constitutional right. At least for now.