'Game-Changer': Why Alabama's Abortion Ban 'Awoke' Protesters

A wave of conservative states passed abortion bans this year, but the national backlash didn't come until Alabama's was signed into law.
by | May 22, 2019 AT 5:09 PM
Abortion-rights protesters outside the U.S. Supreme Court.
Abortion-rights protesters outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. (Graham Vyse)

SPEED READ:

  • Protests of abortion bans took place in all 50 states this week. 
  • Before Alabama's, bans passed in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Utah. 
  • Since Alabama's, bans have advanced in Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin.
 

Outside the U.S. Supreme Court and in all 50 states, abortion-rights supporters took to the streets on Tuesday to protest new state laws banning the procedure in most cases.

Earlier this year, governors in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Utah signed abortion bans. But the nationwide backlash to these laws didn't come until after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion law last week. That one makes it a felony for doctors to perform abortions in nearly every case, including rape and incest.

"At some point enough is enough," Stephanie Schriock, president of the pro-choice Democratic women’s group EMILY’s List, told Governing at the Supreme Court protest. "Every time a state legislature takes a larger step, you sort of feel the energy, but this was sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back. ... [It] awoke a huge number of women and good men who are not going to let this happen."

Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, agrees that Alabama’s law has transformed the abortion wars, "bringing people out who have been sitting on the sidelines." He calls it "a game-changer" and "the first bill to be enacted in a state that would completely confront the entire logic of Roe v. Wade," the 1973 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right to abortion.

Most of the other bills include exceptions for rape and incest or ban abortion after six weeks, before most women know they are pregnant.

"They want to prevent any access to abortion in this country," Schriock says. "Maybe we just were hoping that wasn’t true. But that is what the Republican Party is now. It is what Donald Trump has ensured is going to happen with the changes in the courts, and that’s why folks are riled up."

Those changes include the recent confirmations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, a pair of conservatives nominated by President Trump who shifted the Supreme Court’s majority to the right, increasing the chances that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

 

Will the Activism Last?

Scheidler thinks most supporters of abortion rights have been "extremely complacent for a very long time" and that their burst of activism this week will be short-lived.

"Those people are not going to be out there protesting a month from now," he says. “They're not going to be out there in two days."

Since Alabama's law passed, abortion bans have advanced in LouisianaMichigan, Missouri and Wisconsin. It’s certainly possible the calendar is contributing to this week’s outbreak of national abortion activism.

"It's May," says Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life. "Part of it is just the end of the legislative session."

 

What Will the Supreme Court Do?

As for where this is all headed, Scheidler doesn’t think Supreme Court action is necessarily imminent, and if it happens, he's skeptical about how much it would change.

"I don't have a lot of optimism that they would go so far as to uphold the Alabama law," he says. "It's possible that we could end up with a ruling that further entrenches legal abortion."

Nevertheless, the tenor of this debate has manifestly shifted, and both sides are behaving as though a historic ruling is on the horizon.

"Frankly," says Forsythe, "it seems like everybody in the country, except the justices, expects the court to overturn Roe."

Graham Vyse | Staff Writer