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News / Nation & World

Alabama health care providers sue over threat of prosecution for abortion help

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
Published: July 31, 2023, 11:21am

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Health care providers in Alabama filed a lawsuit on Monday against the state’s attorney general that seeks to clarify whether they could be charged for helping women get abortions outside the state.

Since abortion became almost entirely illegal in Alabama, the phone rings at least once a day at a former clinic in Tuscaloosa as women — sometimes crying and often desperate — try to find where they can go in other states to end an unwanted pregnancy, the clinic director said.

“We get a lot of the anger — and we know that it’s not us that they are angry at,” said Robin Marty, operations director for the West Alabama Women’s Center. “It’s the situation, but it is very, very hard for my staff. They want to be able to help them.”

Staff members who want to provide assistance are afraid to give much information beyond a website that lists abortion clinic locations, after the state’s Republican Attorney General Steve Marshall suggested people could face criminal charges for helping Alabama women obtain abortions elsewhere.

The three health care providers filed the lawsuit to get a court declaration and injunction clarifying that the state’s criminal statutes can’t be used to prosecute people who help women leave the state for an abortion. The suit was filed by the Women’s Center, the Alabama Women’s Center in Huntsville, and Dr. Yashica Robinson, an obstetrician.

“What the attorney general has tried to do via these threats is to effectively extend Alabama’s abortion ban outside of its borders for Alabama residents,” Meagan Burrows, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the providers in the lawsuit.

Burrows said the threat of prosecution is harming both the health care providers and the women who want to obtain abortions.

In a statement Monday, the attorney general’s office said it “will continue to vigorously enforce Alabama laws protecting unborn life which include the Human Life Protection Act. That includes abortion providers conspiring to violate the Act.”

The lawsuit cites Marshall’s comments on a conservative radio talk show last year, in which he said that state law can’t be used to prosecute a woman for getting an abortion out of state.

However, Marshall said, “if an individual held themselves out as an entity or a group that is using funds that they are able to raise to be able to facilitate those visits, then that’s something that we’re going to look at closely.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and handed authority on abortion law to the states, the Deep South quickly became an area of limited abortion access.

Alabama bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape and incest. The only exemption is if it’s needed because pregnancy threatens the health of the woman.

The landscape outside the state has also evolved rapidly and continues to change quickly as trigger laws and new bans are allowed to take effect. Clinics that remain open are extremely busy.

Marty, the clinic director, said most people who reach out to the clinic know “there is no abortion in Alabama. What they aren’t aware of is how far that extends.”