Co-sponsor of Alabama abortion ban says changes possible

Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 5:27 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Alabama’s strictest-in-the-nation abortion ban could be softened, according to a state senator who co-sponsored the 2019 measure.

The Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down Roe v. Wade opened the door for the 2019 Alabama ban. It prohibits all abortions from conception and includes just one exception –for women facing a serious health risk from pregnancy. There are no penalties for women who obtain abortions, but performing them is a Class A felony, punishable by up to life in prison.

“I think what’s gonna happen is you’re gonna find when we get into session, there’s gonna be several amendatory bills to look at means and methods to isolate exemptions in this or some other way to deal with those matters,” Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) told FOX10 News.

Supporters at the time defended the decision not to include exceptions because they wanted a “clean” abortion law that they believed would be the best vehicle for challenging Roe. As it turned out, the high court passed on that law. Instead, the justices took a Mississippi law that allows abortions for 15 weeks.

Albritton called the issue a “politically volatile hot potato.” He said exceptions for rape and incest are possible, although he declined to commit to any specific change.

“We’ll deal with those when we get ‘em.” he said. “I’m not sure which ones I’m gonna support not support yet. I want to see how the language is.

State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D-Mobile), who vigorously opposed the 2019 law, told FOX10 News that she fought at the time to at least include rape and incest exceptions.

“Of course, that fell on deaf ears,” she said. “I certainly was planning to off that. … Certainly, I would hope that they would at least do that.”

Compromising on abortion does not sit well with anti-abortion activists. Eric Johnston, president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, said any exceptions arguably would violate a 2018 state constitutional amendment that recognized “the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.” Voters approved it by a 3-2 margin.

“Our position was the unborn child is a person, regardless of how they’re conceived,” said Johnston, who helped draft the abortion bill that passed three years ago. “And we wanted to protect their lives. And so, what was true then it is still true now.”

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office has offered some clarification on some questions that have been raised about the law since Friday’s high court ruling. The law does not apply to the Plan B “morning after pill,” according to spokesman Mike Lewis. But he told FOX10 News that it does apply to pills like RU-486, or mifepristone, which terminates a pregnancy during the first 10 weeks. According to the Guttmacher Institute, those pills account for more than half of abortions in the United States.

Enforcing the ban on mifepristone may be difficult, though. President Joe Biden made clear after the high court’s ruling on Friday that those drugs will remain available regardless of individual state laws.

“My administration will also protect a woman’s access to medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA,” he said.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland also weighed in after the Supreme Court ruling.

“States may not ban mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” he said in a statement.

That issue likely is headed to court. John Carroll, a professor at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, said the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause generally allows federal law to override conflicting state laws.

Carroll acknowledged there is some dispute over whether Congress has given the FDA the authority to authorize mifepristone over state objections. But he pointed to a similar case from 2014 in which a federal court struck down a Massachusetts law that barred an FDA-approved painkiller.

“I think it’s a good argument that once the FDA approves a drug for nationwide distribution and sale, that a state can’t then say, ‘No, you can’t distribute it and sell it in our jurisdiction,’” he said.

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