Alabama Health Care Providers File Lawsuit to Prevent the Prosecution of Those Helping Patients Seek Out-of-State Abortion Care

Affiliate: ACLU of Alabama
July 31, 2023 10:00 am

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A group of health care providers filed a lawsuit in federal court today to prevent Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and district attorneys throughout the state from prosecuting those who assist Alabamians seeking to travel across state lines to access abortion care where abortion is legal. Attorney General Marshall has explicitly threatened that health care providers could face felony charges for assisting Alabamians seeking to travel out of state to obtain abortion where it is legal.

As a result, health care providers who filed today’s lawsuit have been forced to stop providing critical information, counseling, as well as practical support to Alabamians who seek to exercise their constitutional right to cross state lines and obtain medical care that is legal in states outside of Alabama. The threatened prosecutions would blatantly violate numerous fundamental constitutional rights, such as the rights to free speech, due process, and to travel freely across state lines.

In states where abortion bans are in effect, the ability of local health care providers to share information and recommendations for specific, trusted out-of-state abortion care providers, as well as information about where people can obtain financial and practical support resources to access out-of-state abortion care, is essential for helping patients to obtain a full range of vital care, and is a lifeline for patients who need abortion care.

Absent a court decision preventing the attorney general and Alabama district attorneys from carrying out threats to criminalize such speech and assistance, more pregnant people will struggle to find out-of-state care, and the financial and logistical support they need to obtain such care without the expertise and insights of their chosen health care provider. As a result, many will be significantly delayed in accessing the abortion care they need, and some may even be forced to give birth against their will. This could have deadly consequences for Alabamians, who are residing in a state that has the third highest maternal mortality rate in the nation, and particularly for Black women, who make up a disproportionate share of maternal deaths due to systemic racism.

Statement from Robin Marty, operations director, West Alabama Women's Center:

“As a result of the Attorney General’s threat, my staff cannot provide vital information and recommendations regarding legal medical care in other states, despite their expertise and professional knowledge as to which out-of-state providers are best suited to each patient’s specific medical circumstances, because they know that to do so is to open themselves up to potential arrest and prosecution. Our patients trust and rely on us to provide them with medically accurate, patient-centered care. When we cannot share information with patients about all of their options during pregnancy, including those options that are legal and available outside Alabama, the physician-patient relationship is put in jeopardy and our patients are harmed. Alabama is our home, and we won’t leave or stop fighting until everyone in our state is able to access the care they need.”

Statement from Dr. Yashica Robinson, medical director, Alabama Women’s Center:

“When I became a doctor, I took an oath to serve my patients to the best of my ability and always put their interests first, but politicians have relentlessly attacked that commitment and tried to take away power from the people I have dedicated my life to serving. My patients trust me to care for them and provide the necessary information, counseling and recommendations for them to make informed decisions for themselves during pregnancy, including sharing where and how they can legally access abortion out of state, if they so choose. Tragically, banning abortion in Alabama seems to not have been enough, and those in power want to muzzle providers like me to prevent us from sharing information with our pregnant patients about the options they have, including abortion care in states where it is legal, and supporting our patients in accessing that care. The Attorney General’s threat is yet another cruel attack on my patients’ ability to make the best medical decisions for their futures.”

Statement from Meagan Burrows, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project:

“The attorney general’s threat to prosecute people for assisting and supporting Alabamians in seeking out-of-state abortion care is as dangerous as it is blatantly unconstitutional. When Marshall threatens criminal liability for anyone who facilitates interstate travel for legal abortion care, his purpose is clear: to extend Alabama’s abortion ban across state lines and discourage and burden the free movement of Alabamians. We are hopeful the court will recognize that the threatened prosecutions far exceed the limits of the state’s powers, and will ensure that pregnant Alabamians can once again access information and support for all their legal options.”

Statement from Alison Mollman, senior counsel with the ACLU of Alabama:

“Attorney General Marshall’s threats require healthcare providers in Alabama to choose between their own liberty and freedom, and their ethical responsibility to fully inform pregnant patients of their healthcare options out of state. Over the last year, these threats have prevented pregnant Alabamians from accessing comprehensive information about their legal healthcare options, and the support they may depend on to access those options. The consequences are not theoretical, they are real and can be deadly. It’s time for Attorney General Marshall’s threats to be recognized for what they are: unconstitutional and contrary to Alabama law.”

The lawsuit, West Alabama Women’s Center, et al. v. Marshall, et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in Montgomery by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama on behalf of West Alabama Women’s Center, Dr. Yashica Robinson, and Alabama Women’s Center. A similar case was filed in federal court today by the Lawyering Project on behalf of the Yellowhammer Fund, an organization that has been unable to provide funding and practical support to pregnant Alabamians seeking out-of-state abortion care due to the threat of criminal prosecution.

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