Judge: Alabama Groups Can Sue Over Threat Of Prosecution For Helping With Abortion Travel

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday said abortion rights advocates can proceed with lawsuits against Alabama’s attorney general over threats to prosecute people who help women travel to another state to terminate pregnancies.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson denied Attorney General Steve Marshall's request to dismiss the case. The groups said Marshall has suggested anti-conspiracy laws could be used to prosecute those who help Alabama women obtain an abortion in another state. The two lawsuits seek a legal ruling clarifying that the state can’t prosecute people for providing such assistance.

Alabama bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape and incest.

While Thompson did not issue a final ruling, he said the organizations “correctly contend” that the attorney general “cannot constitutionally prosecute people for acts taken within the State meant to facilitate lawful out of state conduct, including obtaining an abortion.”

“Alabama can no more restrict people from going to, say, California to engage in what is lawful there than California can restrict people from coming to Alabama to do what is lawful here. In this sense, the case is not an especially difficult call,” Thompson wrote.

Marshall has not prosecuted anyone for providing abortion assistance, but he has made statements suggesting his office would “look at” groups that provide help. Marshall's office had asked Thompson to dismiss the lawsuit.

One lawsuit was filed by the Yellowhammer Fund. That group stopped providing financial assistance to low income persons over concerns about possible prosecution. The other suit was filed by an obstetrician and two former abortion clinics that continue to provide contraception and other health services.

Plaintiffs said Marshall’s comments have had a chilling effect on their work and made it difficult for doctors and others to know if they can make appointments and referrals for abortions out of state.

Thompson scheduled a May 15 status conference to discuss the next steps. After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and handed authority on abortion law to the states, the Deep South quickly became an area of limited abortion access.