Editorial: States are slowly chipping away at abortion rights


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An airplane displaying a banner reading “Abortion Is OK” circles the Alabama State Capitol on May 15, in Montgomery, Alabama, the same day Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a near-total ban on abortion into state law.

The governor of Alabama signed the most restrictive abortion law in the country into law last Wednesday. It bans abortion at all stages of pregnancy and in almost all circumstances, including those of rape or incest, and makes abortion a crime punishable by up to 99 years in jail for doctors who perform the procedure. The only exceptions to this ban are if a woman’s life is threatened by the pregnancy or if there is a lethal fetal anomaly.

It’s a preposterous and draconian law created with the intent of bringing the matter of abortion before a more conservative Supreme Court, with the ultimate goal of overturning Roe v. Wade. But while this law certainly is an attack against women that deserves all the attention it’s been getting, there’s a slew of other laws in states around the country that restrict abortion in smaller ways which might be even more effective in overturning Roe v. Wade.

A look into the vague, dramatic language of the Alabama law shows that it wasn’t written with women in mind — it’s an attempt to get abortion rights to the Supreme Court again. It makes the sweeping claim that abortion is the equivalent of homicide in a way that minimizes and vilifies the complex reasons why a woman might elect to end a pregnancy.

This kind of theatrical, insensitive language uses an intimate and difficult women’s issue as a ploy to force lawmakers’ personal, oftentimes religious views on not just their constituents, but possibly on women across the country — if it makes its way to the Supreme Court. However, because of how drastic this law is, there’s a high possibility that the Supreme Court might not take it on — or even get the chance to.

Because the Supreme Court has established the precedent that abortion is legal up to the point of fetal viability, which is usually around 24 weeks, lower courts will probably have to strike down the Alabama law that runs in direct opposition to this precedent. That would mean that the Supreme Court would never get the chance to rule on it.

But that doesn’t mean that women’s reproductive rights are safe and secure. The Supreme Court is more likely to take up other laws being passed around the country that restrict abortion in less drastic ways.

Georgia’s governor signed a bill earlier this month that would make abortion illegal at six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected — an absurd measure due to the fact that many women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks. Missouri’s legislature passed a bill to criminalize abortion after eight weeks — again, at a point where some women don’t even know that they’re pregnant. The governor of Louisiana has voiced support for a bill that would implement a six-week ban and is likely to become law. Several other states have passed laws or are in the process of passing laws to further restrict abortion.

While lower courts might also strike these laws down, states may still appeal and have their cases taken up by higher courts. And because these laws are less absolute than the Alabama law, it’s more likely that the Supreme Court might take up these cases, giving them the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“It is not clear that the current justices who have expressed doubts about the correctness of decisions like Roe and Casey will want to take up a case that squarely presents the question whether these decisions should be overruled,” Richard W. Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame, told The New York Times. “Instead, they might well prefer to first consider less sweeping abortion regulations and to uphold them even under the current doctrine.”


The Alabama law is a blatant attack on women, and for that it deserves all of the protest and outrage that it’s received. But it’s the less drastic laws in other states that everyone who believes in women’s right to choose should pay special attention to.