The debate over abortion has seen a significant resurgence in recent weeks and months, with the state of Alabama at its center. Local lawmakers have been doing their utmost to toughen restrictions and generally make life more difficult for women.
A reactionary attack on abortion rights of this kind as been on the way for some time. Now that the Supreme Court has an ostensibly conservative majority, thanks to President Trump’s recent appointments of Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the bench, anti-abortion activists have been vowing for a while to get Roe v Wade overturned.
Pro-lifers see this as a golden chance to advance their agenda. They know that there is a very real possibility that the White House will turn blue once again next year, and it is hard to say how long the slim and shaky right-leaning majority on the Supreme Court can actually last.
So far, though, the traditionalists have had very little success with their attempts to change the law of the land to criminalize abortion procedures. The Supreme Court has not come close to overturning Roe v Wade, and many of the local laws that state politicians have tried to push through have been blocked by various courts.
The states of Alabama, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas have already had new anti-abortion legislation blocked. In the case of Alabama, one of those laws made its way to the Supreme Court, only for it to be revealed today that the Supreme Court has refused to revive the law.
The ban, if enacted, would have effectively outlawed the most commonly used procedure in second-trimester abortions. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall emotively refers to the process as “dismemberment abortion”, but this was apparently not sufficient to persuade those who sit on the bench of the highest court in the land that it should be outlawed.
The process is generally referred to as dilation and evacuation. A law banning it in Alabama was first enacted in 2016, but it did not take long for the courts to step in and put a stop to it. Today, the pro-lifers’ final attempts to rescue it have been crushed definitively by the Supreme Court.
US District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the process of banning dilation and evacuation would, in practical terms, result in all abortions after fifteen weeks of pregnancy (seven per cent of all abortions carried out in Alabama) being banned.
Thompson’s ruling – blocking the ban – was then upheld by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals. However, two of the three judges on the panel admitted that they only consented to the law being blocked because they are constricted by past Supreme Court rulings on the issue, in support of abortion rights.
Chief Judge Ed Carnes appeared to agree with the hardline conservative view expressed by the Attorney General on the issue, writing in his ruling that he concurred that the procedure amounted to “dismemberment”, but adding that, “in our judicial system, there is only one Supreme Court, and we are not it.”
This ruling is a major victory for pro-choice campaigners, but it is far from the end of the road when it comes to protecting vital abortion rights for American women. The Supreme Court is likely to hear another abortion case this year, this time concerning the state of Louisiana.
A Louisiana law proposed to impose significant restrictions on which doctors are allowed to carry out abortions, but it was struck down by a district court on the basis that it would result in the closure of one, or possibly two, of the three abortions clinics currently operational in the state.
It is likely that the Supreme Court will concur with the local court once again, but only time will tell.