Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Restore Alabama Abortion Law

June 28, 2019 by Dan McCue
Statue outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court will not revive Alabama’s ban on second-trimester abortions, the justices announcing Friday they are content to have lower court orders blocking the law to remain in place.

Though Alabama’s Attorney General Steve Marshall regularly calls the procedure a “dismemberment abortion,” courts have consistently blocked similar bans in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

In October 2017, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson found that the Alabama law would amount to a virtual ban on abortion in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

At the same time, he also struck down an Alabama law that would have prohibited the state from licensing or renewing the license of an abortion clinic within 2,000 feet of a K-8 public school.

“Because these laws clearly impose an impermissible burden on a woman’s ability to choose an abortion, they cannot stand,” Thompson wrote at time.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Thompson’s ruling blocking the abortion law, but two of the three judges on the panel said they voted to affirm only because they are bound by past Supreme Court decisions in support of abortion rights.

One of those judges, Chief Judge Ed Carnes, wrote, “in our judicial system, there is only one Supreme Court, and we are not it.”

As is their custom, the justices did not explain their rationale for rejecting the case, but Justice Clarence Thomas expressed his displeasure in a concurring opinion.

“This case serves as a stark reminder that our abortion jurisprudence has spiraled out of control,” he wrote.

“The notion that anything in the Constitution prevents States from passing laws prohibiting the dismembering of a living child is implausible,” Thomas said. “But under the ‘undue burden’ standard adopted by this Court, a restriction on abortion—even one limited to prohibiting gruesome methods—is unconstitutional if “the ‘purpose or effect’ of the provision ‘is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.’”

Thomas concluded: “Although this case does not present the opportunity to address our demonstrably erroneous ‘undue burden’ standard, we cannot continue blinking [at] the reality of what this Court has wrought.”

The case is Scott Harris, et al., v. West Alabama Women’s Center, et. al. No. 18-837.

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