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Alabama AG: state may prosecute those who assist in out-of-state abortions

AG Steve Marshall said those who assist in out-of-state abortions could be prosecuted under Alabama’s conspiracy and accessory laws.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 with Gov. Kay Ivey in April 2020. GOVERNOR's OFFICE/HAL YEAGER
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It was the kindness of strangers and the assistance of various nonprofit organizations and women’s rights groups that helped Nancy Davis travel from Louisiana to New York City this week to terminate her pregnancy. 

Davis learned 10 weeks into her pregnancy that her fetus was developing without a skull – a rare condition that leaves the baby unable to survive outside of the womb. She also learned that her hospital wouldn’t perform the procedure because of Louisiana’s new anti-abortion law, which didn’t clearly make an exception for Davis’s situation. 

So, strangers and advocates stepped in to help, raising more than $40,000 online and helping with the arrangements to get her to a clinic in a state where abortion remains safe and legal. 

In Alabama, the volunteers who help women like Davis could face jail time due to the state’s “accessory provisions” and “conspiracy provisions,” according to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. 

Marshall made the comments during an August radio interview on FM Talk 106.5 in Mobile. His comments appear to be in response to a series of tweets and media statements made by Alabama Democrats, including former Alabama Democratic Party chairman Chris England and current House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels. 

Both England and Daniels have discussed Alabama’s abortion law – the “Human Life Protection Act,” which is one of the nation’s most restrictive laws with no exceptions for rape or incest – and its numerous unintended consequences. And England brought up the fact that Alabama’s accessory laws could now be applied to anyone who aids a woman seeking an abortion in another state. 

“Not only can anyone, even the woman seeking the abortion, be prosecuted, but also anyone can be prosecuted for conspiracy if they help someone either get or even plan to get an abortion in another state,” England wrote on Twitter. He also posted screenshots of the applicable laws. Those laws would also potentially be used to arrest the women who seek out abortions, charging them as part of the conspiracy. 

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England also noted that it would be “foolish” to expect that Alabama Republicans would not apply the law to its fullest extent in order to score “political points” by prosecuting those who assist women – and prosecute the women themselves – in obtaining out-of-state abortions. 

Asked about the law and the comments from Alabama Democrats suggesting that Marshall’s office would prosecute those who assist women in obtaining abortions, Marshall confirmed that England was correct. 

“There’s no doubt this is a criminal law and general principles would apply. Provisions related to accessory liability, provisions related to conspiracy would have applicability involving this particular act passed by the legislature,” Marshall said during the interview. “If someone was promoting themselves out as a funder of abortions out of state, that is potentially criminally actionable for us. If there are groups promoting this as part of their services, we will be taking a look at that.”

Marshall noted that the law passed by the Alabama legislature doesn’t attempt to restrict women from crossing state lines to receive an abortion, but he quickly followed that by noting that those who assist the women could face felony charges. 

“One thing that we will do when working with local law enforcement is making sure we fully implement this law,” Marshall said. “There is nothing about the law that restricts any individual from driving across state lines and seeking an abortion in another place. However, I would say that if an individual held themselves out as an entity or a group that is using funds that they are able to raise to facilitate those visits then that’s something that we’re going to look at closely.” 

Marshall cited a “group out of Tuscaloosa” that he knew to be assisting women seeking abortions. 

During a recent interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast, women’s rights activist Mia Raven, who operates the nonprofit POWER House in Montgomery, said attorneys she has consulted advised her not to offer assistance to any women seeking abortions in other states. 

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“I knew it was going to be horrific,” Raven said, “but I didn’t expect that they’d also take my rights to free speech too.”

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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