Federal judge blasts threat by Alabama to prosecute groups aiding out-of-state abortions

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.


A federal judge rejected a series of threats by Alabama’s Republican attorney general to prosecute groups that help women Obtaining an abortion outside the statedelve into the debate over access to the procedure that has lingered since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago.

The plaintiffs, including a group called the Yellowhammer Fund that helps women obtain out-of-state abortions, filed a lawsuit against Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall after he indicated that prosecution might be possible for groups that “aid and abet abortion,” including This includes helping women travel outside the state. Country.

The issue has been closely watched by advocates on both sides of the abortion debate, with red states across the country banning or severely limiting access to the procedure in the wake of… Supreme Court decision overturning Roe. This has forced many women seeking abortions in a clinical setting to cross state lines.

“The right to travel between states is one of our fundamental constitutional rights,” said U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote in a preliminary ruling Late Monday.

“Alabama cannot restrict people from going to California, for example, to engage in what is legal there, just as California cannot restrict people from coming to Alabama to do what is legal here,” Thompson wrote.

The lawsuits are not being filed by women seeking abortions out of state, but by groups intending to help them. Thompson, who was appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter, wrote that a patient’s right to travel is “inextricably linked” with those groups. Collectively, the groups receive up to 95 inquiries each week asking about the availability of out-of-state abortions, he wrote.

“The Constitution protects the right to cross state lines and engage in conduct that is lawful in other states, including receiving an abortion,” Thompson wrote in a decision allowing the lawsuit to proceed. “Travel is valuable precisely because it allows us to pursue opportunities available elsewhere.”

A Marshall spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe in 2022, abortion rights groups warned that some states might try to restrict out-of-state travel for the procedure. Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Women’s Health Jackson, nearly two dozen states have banned or severely restricted access to abortion.

Florida bans abortion for six weeks It went into effect last week, for example, cutting off access to the measure in much of the southern United States. Alabama banned abortion Without exception in the case of rape or incest.

“I think we will see an increase in such statements as attorneys general and other state actors attempt to expand their policies and policy on abortion across state lines,” said Rachel Rebush, dean of Temple University Beasley School of Law. “This is the world that Dobbs created—a world of intense conflict between nations.”

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion in the Dobbs case did not address out-of-state travel.
But Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative, joined in Court majority 5-4 to overturn Roewrote separately to point out that the question was not “particularly difficult” to decide.

“As I see it, some of the other abortion-related legal issues raised by today’s decision are not particularly difficult as a constitutional matter,” Kavanaugh wrote. “For example, may a state prohibit a resident of that state from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion? In my view, the answer does not depend on the constitutional right to travel between states.

Access to abortion medications, another option for women in states that ban the procedure, also faces a legal challenge. The Supreme Court this year is considering a lawsuit brought by conservative doctors and advocates who say the Food and Drug Administration exceeded its authority by expanding access to the drug. Abortion pills mifepristone.

The Alabama groups were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Allison Muhlman, legal director for the ACLU of Alabama, said the decision “brings us one step closer to ensuring that health care providers can fulfill their ethical duties to their patients and proving that pregnant women in Alabama can access comprehensive information about the legal health care options available to them.” . .

This story has been updated with additional information.

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