Alabama Republicans would charge abortion patients with murder under proposed legislation

The bill would allow prosecutions for anyone who terminates a pregnancy ‘regardless’ of viability, at any point after fertilization

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 10 May 2023 22:37 BST
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Related video: Ex-White House chief Ron Klain calls for ‘aggressive’ defence of abortion rights

An Alabama state lawmaker who ran for office on “medical freedom” has introduced legislation that would allow law enforcement agencies to prosecute abortion patients on charges of murder and assault.

The bill from Republican state Rep Ernie Yarbrough and several other GOP lawmakers would repeal a provision in state law that exempts abortion patients from prosecution and inserts a so-called “personhood” clause that would redefine “person” to the moment an embryo is fertilised, giving a zygote the same rights as the person carrying it.

Prosecutions for abortion – “regardless” of the viability of the pregnancy – would “be treated the same as prosecutions of homicide or assault of a person born alive,” according to the bill, throwing into question whether the state could criminalise miscarriages or other adverse pregancy outcomes.

“The lives of preborn individuals must be protected with the same criminal and civil laws protecting the lives of born individuals,” the bill states.

The proposal joins a largely failed, far-right “abortion abolitioncampaign among anti-abortion legislators and activists across the US emboldened by the US Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 to revoke a constitutional right to abortion care.

Alabama is among more than a dozen states, mostly in the US South, where abortion is now effectively illegal or access is severely constrained.

The measure from Rep Yarbrough and four other state lawmakers would also give district attorneys and the state attorney general “concurrent authority” to prosecute abortion cases if other law enforcement agencies refuse. Dozens of officials from across the US signed a statement last year pledging to refuse to prosecute anti-abortion laws.

Earlier this year, Alabama’s attorney general Steve Marshall said authorities could prosecute people who use abortion drugs under a “chemical endangerment of a child” statute initially designed to protect children from meth lab fumes.

Rep Yarbrough’s measure also states that a pregnant person can be prosecuted if they “intentionally” or “recklessly” placed themselves in a “situation in which it was probable” that they would be “subject to duress”.

The bill adds a clause that medical providers would not be prosecuted if an abortion is required to save the life of the pregnant patient, provided that “all other reasonable alternatives to the medical care or treatment have been exhausted”.

Robin Marty, the operations manager for West Alabama Women’s Center, said the clause “guarantees no medical provider will ever perform any service that might save a pregnant person’s life out of fear of jail.”

The “all reasonable alternatives” clause “is going to scare them away,” she wrote on Twitter.

The Independent has requested comment from Rep Yarbrough.

A similar bill to prosecute abortion patients was introduced by a Republican state lawmaker in Louisiana last year, but the measure was withdrawn and effectively dead after debate.

The Alabama legislation was filed on 9 May, roughly one year after Politico published a “leak” draft of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v Wade and constitutional protections for abortion access that were in place for roughly half a century.

Following the court’s official decision in the case in June, anti-abortion state lawmakers proposed and enacted a wave of restrictions that have invited dozens of legal battles across the country.

Since the high court’s ruling, Alabama law prohibits all abortions at any stage of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest, except to save the life of the patient.

Democratic state lawmakers have filed legislation to repeal the state’s anti-abortion law and a decades-old, pre-Roe statute that makes it a crime for anyone to induce an abortion or a miscarriage.

Republican Tommy Tuberville, one of the state’s two GOP members of the US Senate, has also launched a blockade against confirming nominees to serve at the US Department of Defense to protest federal policies that allow service members to access abortion care.

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