For much of the last three months, I have been traveling the United States — mostly in the South — and discussing my new book about how to prepare for when Roe v. Wade is overturned. In mid-March, I toured Alabama, where I spoke to a group of abortion rights supporters in Montgomery about how to best support organizations who would help pregnant patients travel to states where abortion would be legal in order to get care.
“But what if helping them becomes illegal?” one activist asked.
“Well, we could see a time where maybe helping a minor get across a state line to access an abortion without parental permission could be illegal,” I answered, referring to CIANA— the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, a failed federal bill that could someday maybe become law. “But just helping an adult get an abortion? I don’t see that ever happening.”
Ironically, now Alabama itself is proving me wrong.
According to abortion rights activists on the ground, the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition is about to introduce a brand new abortion ban that could go further than any before.
“Eric Johnston, an attorney and member of Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, helped draft the bill on the outright ban,” reports AL.com. “He said one or more legislators will propose the bill next week banning abortion outright, without any rape or incest caveats. The bill would make it a crime to perform or aid a person in getting an abortion, he said. Johnston did not provide a copy of the bill to AL.com.”
Doctors always knew they would be a target if abortion is made illegal. But “aiding” someone who is getting an abortion? That’s a whole new level — and one that at this point is alarmingly and purposefully vague.
There are some pretty direct ways a person can “assist” with an abortion that we have already seen result in jail time, like when Jennifer Whalen obtained medication abortion for her daughter after they were unable to access a clinic in Pennsylvania. But there are also indirect ways of assisting a person with getting an abortion — such as driving them to a clinic, providing them with funding when they don’t have enough money to pay, giving them a place to stay overnight or any other number of ways of offering financial, practical or emotional support when a pregnant person needs it.
The Alabama ACLU is already on the scene, warning the state that it will litigate any attempt to completely ban abortion in defiance of Roe v. Wade, which — at least for now — is still the law of the land. As the civil rights group emphasizes, it will be the citizens of Alabama who will literally bare the costs.
Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, explained in a press release:
These lawsuits are a part of a plan to overturn Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court. They know they will not win in federal, district, or appeals courts because these bills are flagrantly unconstitutional. However, if a state loses in lower courts, appeals to the Supreme Court and is denied review, then they will owe potentially hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money in attorney fees. None of these states including Alabama can afford to throw money away like that.
But if Roe is gone — as could easily be the case as soon as 2021 — well then, every state gets to decide exactly what they want to do with their own abortion laws. And Alabama could very well set the bar on seeing just how extreme one state can go.
That means that by making it illegal to “assist” in an abortion, Alabama is at the very least trying to intimidate those who are already actively working in the abortion support network — and hoping to make them fearful that they may be viewed as potential future perpetrators of illegal acts.
It seems unfathomable that helping a pregnant person buy an airplane ticket to the closest abortion-providing state could potentially land someone in jail. Then again, until recently it seemed unfathomable that an ex-boyfriend could sue an abortion clinic on behalf of an embryo, yet somehow this case has yet to be dismissed.
I always tell people that when Roe is overturned, each one of us needs to think about what actions we are willing to take and what risks we are willing to undergo in order to be sure that those who still want abortions can access them. Now, that we are seeing just how great that risk may become, I encourage everyone to weigh these considerations even more thoroughly than before.