National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Federal judge blocks two Ala. antiabortion-rights laws

A federal judge on Thursday issued a preliminary injunction that blocks two Alabama antiabortion-rights measures from taking effect, Reuters reports (O'Brien, Reuters, 10/28).

Laws at issue

One of the laws (SB 363) banned a medically proven method of abortion. The law, proposed by state Sen. Phil Williams (R), includes limited exceptions in instances of a "serious health risk" to the woman. The exception does not apply to mental health concerns. Under the law, physicians who provide the banned method of abortion care would be penalized.

Alabama is among several states that have introduced such a ban. Courts have blocked similar measures in Kansas and Oklahoma. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, the bans are unconstitutional because they impede private medical decisions.

Another law (SB 205) prohibited the location and licensure of abortion clinics "within 2,000 feet of a K-8 public school."

In April, the State Committee of Public Health also approved a regulation that requires abortion providers to give a woman a hard copy of her medical files after she obtains an abortion. The measure was approved as part of a broader array of requirements for clinics that do not have a provider on staff with admitting privileges.

Lawsuit details

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama in June challenged the two laws as well as the medical record regulation by filing a supplemental complaint to a 2015 lawsuit challenging the state's admitting privileges requirement. ACLU of Alabama filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on behalf of the Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Alternatives, the West Alabama Women's Center and abortion providers who offer care at those clinics.

The clinics noted that the latest restrictions "would inflict severe and irreparable injury on the plaintiffs' patients if enforced." Specifically, they noted that the clinic zoning requirement would shut down clinics located in Huntsville and Tuscaloosa. According to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health, those two clinics provided nearly three-quarters of the abortion care in the state in 2014.

The lawsuit also detailed the harmful effects of the ban on a medically proven method of abortion, as well as how the medical record regulation could endanger women's privacy (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/14).

The location restriction and procedure ban were scheduled to take effect Aug. 1. However, in July, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued an order that halted enforcement while litigation continued. An evidentiary hearing was held on Oct. 4 (Chandler, AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/27). The temporary order had been set to expire three weeks after the hearing.

Ruling details

On Thursday, Thompson issued a preliminary injunction against the location restriction and the procedure ban. Thompson said the rules would likely be found unconstitutional, noting that they impose an undue burden on a woman's access to abortion and other services (Reuters, 10/28).

In the ruling, Thompson said that the location restriction would force the Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Alternatives and the West Alabama Women's Center to close. The bill had targeted the Alabama Women's Center, which had moved to a location near a school to comply with a separate antiabortion-rights law regarding building code requirements, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

Further, Thompson noted that the two clinics are the only clinics in the state that offer abortion care after 15 weeks of pregnancy. He wrote, "The availability of abortions in Alabama would be significantly reduced, and abortions beginning at 15 weeks would become almost wholly unavailable" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/27). Moreover, citing the increased distance to other clinics in the state if the two targeted facilities were shut down, Thompson said the burden imposed by the location restriction "would become particularly devastating for low-income wom[e]n."

Thompson also addressed the ban on a medically proven method of abortion, noting that providers under the ban might have to rely on an "inadequately studied, potentially risky procedure" to offer women abortion care (Reuters, 10/28).

Susan Watson, executive director of ACLU of Alabama, praised the ruling. "It's long past time for our elected officials to stop wasting time and taxpayer money passing laws that violate women's constitutional rights and start focusing on the needs of women and families in this state," she said (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/27).