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U.S. Justice Dept. enters fight for Alabama women’s right to interstate abortion access

The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday took a significant step in the battle for reproductive rights.


Alabama’s Republican Attorney General Steve Marshall in August asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to stop his office from prosecuting those who aid Alabamians seeking to access abortion care in states where it is legal.

In the motion to dismiss, state attorneys doubled down on statements Steve Marshall made in an August 2022 radio interview, in which he said that health care providers could face felony charges for assisting Alabamians in traveling to other states to obtain legal abortion care.

The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday took a significant step in the battle for reproductive rights by filing a statement of interest in two major Alabama lawsuits, Yellowhammer Fund v. Marshall and West Alabama Women’s Center, et al., v. Marshall, affirming the constitutional right to travel for abortion services. The statement, submitted on Thursday, emphasizes the protected right of individuals to cross state lines for legally permissible activities, highlighting that states cannot block third parties from aiding in such travel.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland expressed the department’s steadfast commitment to reproductive freedom, stating, “The right to seek care where it is legally available is a fundamental constitutional principle. Our filing underlines the Justice Department’s dedication to preserving the constitutional right to travel and ensuring reproductive freedom as upheld by federal law.”

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Reproductive Rights Task Force, reinforced this position, noting that the task force has been vigilant in opposing state laws that undermine federally protected reproductive rights, including illegal restrictions on interstate travel for abortion.

Brian Boynton, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, asserted that Alabama’s position to curtail the constitutional travel right to achieve its policy objectives is impermissible. The Justice Department’s Civil Division, he confirmed, will continue to protect U.S. interests in this regard.

The legal document draws on established Supreme Court jurisprudence and statements from Justice Kavanaugh, who was part of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization majority, affirming that barring travel to obtain an abortion is unconstitutional. The plaintiffs, including organizations and individuals from Alabama, are challenging the Alabama Attorney General’s stance that assisting someone in obtaining a lawful out-of-state abortion could be deemed criminal conspiracy in Alabama.

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Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Justice Department’s Reproductive Rights Task Force, led by Gupta, has been actively evaluating state and local legislation and actions that may infringe upon women’s rights to legal reproductive care.

The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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