Federal appeals court rules against Alabama abortion restriction

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday struck down an Alabama law that sought to ban the most commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure.

The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta affirmed a lower court’s decision that the 2016 ban on the procedure known as dilation and evacuation was an unconstitutional restriction on abortion access.

The ruling is the latest blow to efforts in some states to ban the second-trimester abortion procedure in which the fetus is removed in pieces with forceps. Courts have blocked similar laws in Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the Alabama law, said it is the first time an appellate court has ruled on the constitutionality of a dilation and evacuation ban.

Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said the ruling means Alabama politicians can’t put an “ideological agenda” over a woman’s health and decision-making.

“The upshot of this ruling is that women’s health, not politics, will guide important medical decisions about pregnancy. Laws like this are part of a larger strategy by anti-abortion politicians to push abortion out of reach entirely. Today, the court affirmed a woman’s right to get the care she needs,” Andrew Beck, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said.

The Alabama attorney general’s office did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in 2016 blocked enforcement of the Alabama law, saying the ban would cause Alabama women to lose access to abortion in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy because of the unavailability of other methods.

Alabama, with support from other conservative states, had appealed the decision. Twenty-two states signed an amicus brief in support of Alabama, arguing the law is constitutional and the wrong legal standard was applied.

Politicians seeking to ban the practice refer to it by the nonmedical term “dismemberment” abortion. Alabama argued in court filings that it is inhumane.

“That act prohibits dismemberment abortion — a particularly brutal form of abortion,” lawyers for the state attorney general’s office wrote in court filings with the 11th Circuit.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has described dilation and evacuation as the safest and most common abortion procedure in the U.S. in the second trimester. According to court records in the case, 93 percent of abortions in Alabama occur before 15 weeks of pregnancy. For the seven percent of abortions that occur after 15 weeks, 99 percent of them are by dilation and evacuation.

In the 11th Circuit decision, Chief Judge Ed Carnes wrote that “dismemberment” is an accurate description for the procedure, but ruled against the state.

“In our judicial system, there is only one Supreme Court, and we are not it,” he wrote.

“I was supportive of the bill when it passed through the Legislature in 2016, and I signed it as president of the Senate,” said Governor Kay Ivey in a statement. “I am disappointed in the court’s ruling today; however, we should not let this discourage our steadfast commitment to protect the lives of the unborn, even if that means taking this case to the U.S. Supreme Court. This ruling clearly demonstrates why we need conservative justices on the Supreme Court, and I look forward to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.”

Attorney General Steve Marshall also issued a statement in response to the ruling. “I am disappointed that the 11th Circuit sided with the lower court in this case, but it is encouraging that the court recognized the State’s important and legitimate interests in ending barbaric abortion procedures—in this case, procedures that literally tear apart babies living inside their mothers’ wombs. I also appreciate Judge Dubina’s separate opinion that the United States Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence ‘has no basis in the Constitution. Our legal team is carefully considering whether we will petition the Supreme Court for review of this case. We expect to reach a decision soon.”