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Judge allows abortion support lawsuit to move forward

Judge Myron Thompson will continue hearing a lawsuit that calls for legal protection of individuals who help women seek abortions across state lines.

The federal courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama. STOCK
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A federal court in Alabama issued a ruling Monday allowing Alabama health care providers to continue their lawsuit aimed at preventing the prosecution of individuals who assist Alabamians seeking to travel across state lines to access legal abortion care. A group of health care providers filed a lawsuit last year after Attorney General Marshall explicitly threatened they could face felony charges for supporting patients in accessing legal out-of-state care. Judge Myron Thompson rejected Marshall’s attempt to dismiss the case.

“This case is simply about how a State may not prevent people within its borders from going to another State, and from assisting others in going to another State, to engage in lawful conduct there,” Thompson wrote in the ruling Monday. “Alabama can no more restrict people from going to, say, California to engage in what is lawful there than California can restrict people from coming to Alabama to do what is lawful here. In this sense, the case is not an ‘especially difficult call.’  … Therefore, the plaintiffs here correctly contend that the Attorney General cannot constitutionally prosecute people for acts taken within the State meant to facilitate lawful out of state conduct, including obtaining an abortion.”

The plaintiffs in the case said Monday that the ruling strongly supports their contention that Alabamians have the right to travel across state lines to get abortions.

“Today’s ruling sends a strong signal to anti-abortion politicians that their efforts to prevent pregnant people in states with bans from obtaining the help they need to access legal, out-of-state abortion care are blatantly unconstitutional,” said Meagan Burrows, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “We are pleased that the case will proceed and we can continue fighting on behalf of our clients to put an end to the attorney general’s threats once and for all.”

“Since the fall of Roe, Attorney General Marshall’s threats have forced our clients to choose between their own liberty and freedom, and their ethical responsibility to fully inform pregnant patients of their healthcare options out of state,” said Alison Mollman, legal director of the ACLU of Alabama. “Today’s decision brings us one step closer to ensuring that healthcare providers can fulfill their ethical duties to their patients and to establishing that pregnant Alabamians can access comprehensive information about their legal healthcare options. We are proud to continue this important fight on behalf of our clients and their patients.”

The plaintiffs wrote in a release that if Marshall can “criminalize speech and assistance related to abortion,” more pregnant people will struggle to find out-of-state care, and the financial and logistical support they need to obtain such care without the expertise and insights of their chosen health care provider. As a result, many will be significantly delayed in accessing the abortion care they need, and some may even be forced to give birth against their will. This could have deadly consequences for Alabamians, who are residing in a state that has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation, and particularly for Black women, who make up a disproportionate share of maternal deaths.

The lawsuit, West Alabama Women’s Center, et al. v. Marshall, et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in Montgomery by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama on behalf of West Alabama Women’s Center, Dr. Yashica Robinson, and Alabama Women’s Center. A similar case was filed in federal court by the Lawyering Project on behalf of the Yellowhammer Fund. The cases have since been consolidated.

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Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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