Opinion | The dangerous fine print of Alabama’s abortion laws

Mary Claire Wooten, Staff Columnist

In May 2019, Alabama enacted the Human Life Protection Act, HB314, which created an almost-total ban on abortions in the state. The bill was introduced by Rep. Terri Collins, a Republican representing Alabama’s 8th district. It was later penned by Eric Johnston, the president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition. 

The Human Life Protection Act bans abortions at any stage, except in cases where the fetus has a lethal anomaly or the pregnancy “presents serious health risk” to the mother, but it only appears to refer to physical health. 

These exceptions  have been specifically crafted to be as difficult to apply as possible. Anti-abortion policymakers see exceptions as loopholes, but these exceptions are utilized to make these bans seem less harsh than they are. Once a physician is faced with the dilemma of deciding whether their patient is as sickly as the Alabama lawmakers would prefer them to be before ending a pregnancy, we begin to see the issues that medical professionals are facing in a post-Roe era.

In Alabama, according to HB314, a mother must undergo evaluations from a physician and a psychiatrist to confirm a serious health risk presented to the mother or the unborn child by ways of emotional conditions or mental illness. Once permitted, the procedure must be performed by a physician licensed in Alabama in a hospital as it is defined by the Alabama Administrative Code. 

What’s to be said of the health risks that come as direct causes of birthing a child? Alabama is home to one of the highest percentages of mothers with postpartum depression, with 20.8% of women reporting symptoms of depression after their live birth. Lawmakers have exemplified their disinterest in the overall well-being of the mother. The goal isn’t to save lives, but rather to birth another child who will receive no additional help from the government once out of the womb. 

The bill includes no exceptions in instances of rape or incest. In these instances, the unborn is being prioritized above the mother. The physical and mental effects of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term from either rape or incest could even result in lifelong ailments for both the mother and the baby. 

Whether consciously or not, studies show that mothers who deliver a child from an unwanted pregnancy can take a more authoritarian parenting style, resulting in the lack of sufficient interaction between the mother and child. 

In Alabama, physicians can be convicted of a Class A felony for providing an individual with an abortion or a Class C felony for attempting to perform one. The lines are much blurrier than that. These laws use vague, non-medical language that providers across the country are scared to misinterpret, as they could come with consequences such as large fines, revoked medical licenses or even years spent in jail. 

The bill aimed to place emphasis on life, even going as far as to compare the number of fetuses aborted from 1973, the year of the Roe decision, to the lives of those killed in German death camps, seven Chinese purges, Stalin’s gulags, Cambodian killing fields and the Rwandan genocide combined.

In 2006, Alabama created Code – Section 26-15-3.2 which was originally intended to protect children from exposure to environments where controlled substances are produced or distributed. This helped contest the growing issues with methamphetamine usage in parts of Alabama. Since 2006, the way that law enforcement and prosecutors utilize this law has changed shapes in a dramatic way. It’s since been used to prosecute parents who are caught in the possession of very small amounts of drugs, which includes prescription medication. 

Now, it’s being used to target pregnant mothers. 

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall claimed that the state’s abortion ban would never criminalize women. A week after the federal government made it easier to access abortion pills, on January 7th, Marshall announced his intentions to use the 2006 chemical endangerment law to arrest women who seek out these medications. 

“Elective abortion — including abortion pills — is illegal in Alabama. Nothing about the Justice Department’s guidance changes that,” said Marshall in a comment with AL.com. 

A government that previously claimed to support women is now utilizing its own loopholes to criminalize those carrying unwanted pregnancies with laws that have been twisted and perverted. This is the first time Marshall has said that women who have undergone medication abortion could be arrested. 

Marshall is also attempting to stand in the way of mothers receiving legal medical services prescribed outside of the state of Alabama. Within HB314, there are already terms set in place against getting an abortion from a physician outside of Alabama. Section 26-15-3.2 is now being used to block women from taking abortion medication that could be accessed in other states. 

These laws serve as a fast track to totalitarian rule over female bodily autonomy and without a close watch on the fine print, rights begin to slip through the cracks.