Two bills seeking to outlaw abortions of all kinds are being considered in the Health Committee of the Alabama Legislature.
Rep. John Merrill, R-Tuscaloosa, sponsored House Bills 405 and 409 out of a desire to protect the rights of the unborn, he said.
If passed, the bills would be the first in the nation to shift the legal definition of personhood to the moment of fertilization so that abortions would be deemed a violation of an unborn person’s right to life, Merrill said.
“It brings it down to the basic point of conception,” Merrill said. “This will begin a process to eliminate all abortions.”
No exceptions are made in the legislation for victims of rape or for therapeutic abortions, which are done for the health of pregnant mothers.
Merrill’s inspiration for sponsoring the bill derives from a passage in Psalm 139:13, which reads, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” according to the New International Version.
Before the bills are passed, Merrill said they must first exit the Health Committee to be debated on the floor of the Legislature.
Throwing legal roadblocks in the path of accessible abortions has historically led to women with unwanted pregnancies seeking unsafe, illegal abortions to avoid bearing children, said Lisa Lindquist-Dorr, associate professor of history, in an emailed statement.
“Before Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973, it wasn’t uncommon for large hospitals to have entire wards devoted to women suffering the after-effects of botched abortions,” she said. “In 1960s, for example, one hospital in Chicago cared for more than 5,000 women per year who were suffering from sepsis, blood loss, or a perforated uterus as a result of illegal abortions.”
The anti-abortion legislation would place women with unwanted pregnancies in a bind due to the current weakening of the social safety net for mothers in need of government assistance, she said.
“Food stamps, welfare, housing assistance, child care, health care programs are all getting slashed,” Lindquist-Dorr said. “All this concern about the fetus before birth vanishes the instant the baby is born. The same conservatives who want to outlaw abortion also want to eliminate the programs that support single mothers who choose to have their babies.”
Popular forms of contraceptives, such as birth control pills, that impede the fertilization that is safeguarded in the bills would be criminalized as a result of the legislation, she said.
The anti-abortion legislation could also open the door to further intrusions into women’s privacy by encouraging legal measures that target sexually active women for the sake of preserving their potential pregnancies, she said.
“Who would know whether or not she was carrying a fertilized egg?” she asked. “That seems an unwarranted intrusion on the liberties of all women of child-bearing years, and certainly an intrusion that men would never face. It would be, to say the least, inherently discriminatory.”
Despite the intention of the legislation, the right for women to obtain abortions will not be outlawed because of the approval of medically safe abortions from the Supreme Court, which is the final legal authority on the matter, said Bryan Fair, professor of constitutional law.
“Ultimately, it’s not a legislator’s position to define when life begins,” he said. “The Supreme Court has said that the state has the right to protect fetal life, so the state can encourage regulations that make abortions safe, but I don’t think the U.S. will ever go back to a time when women will not have the right to terminate a pregnancy.”