With Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature on Wednesday, her state took the lead in the race to pass the nation’s most restrictive abortion law. Ivey gave women in Washington one more reason to be grateful they live in a state that protects their right to choose but not a reason to be complacent about those rights being curtailed nationally.
Alabama’s absolutist law bans abortion under nearly all circumstances, including for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Its twist is that doctors who perform abortions would face felony charges. Watch for overly aggressive, misogynist prosecutors to subpoena women who miscarry in hopes of finding abortion-providing doctors to lock up.
Alabama isn’t in this race to the bottom alone, though. Four states have passed laws prohibiting an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which often occurs before a woman knows she’s pregnant. On Thursday, Missouri’s Senate passed a bill banning all abortions after a gestation period of eight weeks.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision that women have a right to an abortion. These new laws are a brazen effort to overturn that half-century-old precedent and deny women control over their own bodies. It’s telling that men are ramming them through legislatures. Every “yea” vote in the Alabama Senate was cast by a male.
Both defenders and opponents of abortion rights expect lower courts, bound by precedent, to block these new laws. Far less certain is what will happen when a case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, which has been reshaped by President Donald Trump’s appointment of conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Many court watchers believe it is unlikely, though, that the high court would forbid abortions nationwide. Rather, that decision would return to the states, and Washington made its decision decades ago.
In 1970, Washington voters passed the nation’s first referendum legalizing abortions early in pregnancy. The state’s voters reaffirmed abortion rights in 1991 and also guaranteed low-income women’s access to abortion services. Last year, the Legislature passed the Reproductive Parity Act, which protects insurance coverage of abortion services.
Meanwhile, the abortion rate in the United States has declined steeply, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Access to contraception has been a primary factor. If half the energy spent restricting abortion rights could be directed toward reducing the need for them in the first place, women in all states would be better off.
In the meantime, these efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade should be shut down.