Alabama eyeing constitutional amendment on abortion

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama voters will decide whether to add anti-abortion language into the state constitution that would have the state recognize the “rights of unborn children” — language that could restrict abortion if the Supreme Court ever gives states more power to curtail access.

The language does not limit access to abortion as long as Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a right to abortion, remains in place, but would become the state’s top legal guidance if Roe is altered or overturned.

Alabama is one of three states – along with West Virginia and Oregon – voting on abortion-related measures. The votes come at a time when the addition of conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has stoked both hopes and anxieties that the court will be more open to abortion restrictions.

Opponents argue the Alabama proposal would clear the way to ban all abortions in the state if Roe is reversed.

“Amendment 2 would pave the way to ban abortions without exception in Alabama which would mean that there are no exceptions for rape or incest or if the life of the woman were in danger,” said Katie Glenn, state director of Planned Parenthood Southeast.

Proponents say the amendment is a statement of what Alabama voters believe, and have accused opponents of exaggerating the implications.

“If you are a pro-life voter who believes in protecting the rights and lives of unborn babies, you have an opportunity to do that by voting yes for Amendment 2 on Nov. 6,”said Rick Renshaw, the political director of the Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama, a group formed by conservative and anti-abortion groups, to support the amendment.

Renshaw said the language would “position Alabama in the future for public policy decisions on abortion if Roe. V. Wade was overturned.” He added that is “a big if.”

Eric Johnston, director of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, said even if Roe is overturned, the constitutional language does not restrict abortion by itself. He said lawmakers would have to come back and approve criminal statutes to spell out what is and isn’t legal.

Alabama has a decades-old existing statute on the book that predates Roe that makes it a crime to induce, or help induce, an abortion unless necessary to preserve a mother’s life or health.

Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, argued it could go further in restricting abortion because “the breadth of the language appears to enshrine that there could be no abortion in Alabama.”

The GOP-controlled Legislature approved the measure in the 2017 legislative session to put on the ballot during this year’s general election when they are also up for election. The proposal could be a turnout driver during elections for statewide, congressional and legislative offices.

Planned Parenthood has given nearly $800,000 to Alabama for Healthy Families, a group formed with other advocates of abortion rights, to fight the amendment.