Lawmakers: Bill needed to be clean for Roe v. Wade challenge
By ED HOWELL
(Editor’s note: A group of staff members from the Daily Mountain Eagle spent Wednesday in Montgomery speaking with legislators from the area on a variety of topics. The first two pieces from that trip are featured in today’s newspaper, while the second two pieces will be featured in the Tuesday edition of the Eagle.)
MONTGOMERY – Walker and Winston County legislators were happy after voting for the abortion ban bill signed into law last week, saying the bill was designed to not include exceptions for rape or incest so as to invite a ruling on Roe v. Wade from the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Senate gave final approval to the controversial bill 25-6 on Tuesday night, while Gov. Kay Ivey signed the Alabama Human Life Protection Act late Wednesday afternoon, saying on Twitter the bill “stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.” The House earlier voted 74-3 to pass the bill.
The news was headlined on network newscasts that night, indicating the Alabama law was the strongest abortion law in the nation, requiring prison time for up to 99 years for physicians performing an abortion. The only exception in the act involves “if a doctor determines that the pregnancy poses a serious health risk to the mother,” Reed said.
Legislators and their receptionists were still being inundated with phone calls and messages on Wednesday, many from outside Alabama and many urging action for or against the bill even though it had already passed. Reporters from news agencies such as NBC News and the BBC were seen working at the Alabama Statehouse. A plane was seen flying above with the banner saying, “Abortion is OK!”
Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, has been a strong abortion opponent who successfully pushed last year for Amendment 2, which protected rights for the unborn in Alabama and said there was nothing in the state constitution to secure or protect the right to an abortion or its funding.
In a statement Tuesday night, Reed said the new act “establishes the personhood of the baby in the womb and outlaws surgical abortions as soon as a pregnancy can be medically determined.”
On Wednesday morning in his office, Reed was asked by the Daily Mountain Eagle how he felt on exemptions for rape and incest in last week’s bill.
He pointed out all the exemptions in amendments were voted down, adding some had relevance and some were simply designed to make a point. Amendments would wind up having the bill conflict with itself, he said.
Reed said, “So if you are looking at it from a legal perspective, the goal is to be a challenge to Roe v. Wade, (and) give the Supreme Court another option….” He later added that the goal was to “keep the bill clean” from amendments to make the bill right for a legal challenge.
Roe v. Wade is the 1973 decision that said the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protected the right to an abortion. He noted other states have been passing similar legislation, anticipating the growingly conservative court might revisit the matter.
Saying he has been “pro-life forever,” Reed added it is “a complicated topic” that generates many issues. “My office has been inundated with people all over America really from one side or another still calling today after the bill has already passed,” he said.
“But I think it is an important piece of legislation. I’ve been very supportive,” he said, adding that state voters “spoke very loudly” on Amendment 2, which passed with 59 percent of the vote. “I don’t think there is any question about the State of Alabama in regards to where they stand on a sanctity of life question.”
He said while the bill says it will take effect in six months, the bill will be challenged (which the ACLU said later in the day it would do), and it will move through the appeals courts to be declared unconstitutional with the goal of reaching the Supreme Court to hear the case.
“If that is the case, it will never become law in Alabama unless there is action of the Supreme Court, which was the focus all along,” he said.
Reed told Yellowhammer News earlier this month that the Supreme Court might allow states to set their own policy and that at that point, “we would be able to make appropriate exceptions within what would govern the procedures or lack thereof in the State of Alabama.” That process would then not be “governed by federal mandate.”
State Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, also voted for the bill in the House, predicting it would go to the Supreme Court. Asked if he was in favor of the exemptions, he said, “That is part of the bill and I voted for that, but I would anticipate the U.S. Supreme Court making some changes dealing with that issue.” Asked if he didn’t approve the exemptions, he said he “voted for the bill that did not have those exemptions in it.”
State Rep. Connie Roe, R-Jasper, was called away from Montgomery Wednesday due to a family emergency. However, she did say by text Friday she did vote for the bill in the House.
State Rep. Tracy Estes, R-Winfield, whose district includes parts of Winston County, said he voted for the bill.
“I’m grateful to have had an opportunity to do that,” he said. “I got a call this morning from a lady in Ohio who thought it was important that I hear her opinion on that issue. Needless to say, we started off pleasant enough until she got to telling me how dumb I was and foolish. I never raised my voice. I just told her that is what makes this country great; we can disagree.
“She said, ‘You can’t prove life starts at that point.’ I said, ‘You can’t prove it doesn’t,'” he said. “‘If I am going to stand before my maker, which I will and give an account some day, I would much rather err on the side of caution.’ I said that where the difference comes in on this debate. Those of us who believe that is a living child, which I happen to believe that, it makes this issue very simple.”
He said one of the biggest complaints about the bill has been the lack of exemptions for rape or incest.
“It is not the people in this chamber are very cold hearted,” Estes said. “There was a purpose for that. If the whole process was designed to bring about a court challenge at the federal level and directly challenge Roe v. Wade, and if you offer that amendment, and our argument is we believe this is a life, but if you come back and offer exceptions, you are gutting your own argument.
“I tell people, don’t worry – this bill as currently being written will never be law in this state. Ever,” he said. Roe v. Wade could be overturned, but if it is upheld, “then it is over. There is no longer debate. That is the law of the land.” Should Roe v. Wade be overturned, it could be overturned nationally or it would be considered as a states rights issue, as Estes always felt it should have been to start with.
“The Constitution is very clear, if a right is not specifically given in the Constitution to the federal government, all other rights revert back to the states,” he said. “That is where this is going to go, and I think if it becomes law, there would definitely be amendments and exceptions to that.”
He said he voted against the amendments to keep the bill clean. “Not that I am opposed to those exemptions – it’s just that that is at a different time,” he said. “We need to address that at a later time. We had to keep this bill very, very clean and narrowly scoped to bring about the legal challenge we want.”