Supreme Court won't hear appeal to restore Alabama abortion law

In 2016, Alabama's Legislature voted to ban a procedure known as dilation and evacuation but the law was blocked by the courts before it took effect.
Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-JUSTICE-ABORTION
Supporters and opponents of abortion rights hold competing signs at the "March for Life," an annual event to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, outside the Supreme Court on Jan. 18, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Pete Williams

The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday that it will not take up Alabama's appeal involving the state's attempt to ban an abortion procedure commonly used in the second trimester of pregnancy.

The law was passed before this year's wave of harsh abortion restrictions, intended to trigger a review of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion rights the law of the land.

In 2016, Alabama's Legislature voted to ban the procedure known as dilation and evacuation, in which a fetus is removed in pieces. State lawmakers described it as "dismemberment abortion," but the law was blocked by the lower federal courts before it took effect.

U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson said the law placed an undue burden on a woman's right to abortion. He said the state's proposed alternatives for abortions after 15 weeks were unsafe and experimental. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

Alabama said it was not asking the Supreme Court to overturn its earlier abortion rulings and said its ban was consistent with the court's 1992 decision that upheld a ban on certain late term procedures that opponents called "partial birth abortions."

The state said its law would affect only a small number of abortions, because more than 90 percent of abortions in Alabama were performed before 15 weeks of pregnancy. But opponents of the law said it would ban the only outpatient abortion method available in the state starting at 15 weeks.

"Restrictions like these have nothing to do with medicine, and everything to do with politicians trying to interfere in a patient’s decision and their doctor’s recommendation," Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said. "This would prevent doctors from providing patients with the best possible care, and could be dangerous."

Justice Clarence Thomas said he agreed with the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case. But he said the court's test for evaluating abortion restrictions — whether they would be an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose — is "demonstrably erroneous," adding, "We cannot continue blinking the reality of what this court has wrought."