U.S. Healthcare Providers Sue Over Threats To Prosecute Out-Of-State Abortions

A group of healthcare providers represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) and the A.C.L.U. of Alabama has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Alabama Attorney General and District Attorneys over the threat of prosecuting patients who travel out of state to receive abortion care and providers who counsel their patients about this option. According to the Alabama Political Reporter, the Attorney General made comments during a radio interview explicitly stating his desire to prosecute groups who use funds they have raised to facilitate out-of-state visits with the purpose of seeking abortion care. The healthcare providers who filed the suit argue that this violates the basic right to travel between states established in the Constitution and prevents providers from giving their patients complete information about their options, Reuters reports.

“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,” said Robin Marty, operations director at West Alabama Women’s Center, in a statement published by the A.C.L.U.

The Yellowhammer Fund, a group represented by the Lawyering Project that helps Alabama residents who need abortions, filed a separate lawsuit regarding the same objections. “Alabama has no power to criminalize lawful activity that takes place in other states,” the Lawyering Project wrote in its summary of the suit. “The Attorney General’s threats violate Yellowhammer Fund’s constitutional rights to free expression, association, travel, and due process and intrude on the sovereignty of states where abortion is legal.”

However, according to Reuters, a spokesperson for Alabama’s Attorney General said that A.G. Steve Marshall “will continue to vigorously enforce Alabama laws protecting unborn life which include the Human Life Protection Act. That includes abortion providers conspiring to violate the Act.”

This lawsuit seeks to draw an important boundary in a contested area of the law. States have strong differences in legislation regarding abortion care. The possibility of prosecuting people for actions that are legal in other states would erode the separation between these distinct laws. Additionally, prosecuting healthcare providers for informing patients of these differences in legal procedures impedes on patients’ ability to understand their options and make informed decisions about their health.

The threat of prosecution is already causing healthcare providers to be wary of providing necessary care, like in the case of miscarriages that require medical interventions, Dr. Katherine McHugh explained in an interview with A.B.C. News. Informing patients of care available to them outside the state is even more vital in these cases, where the knowledge could be the difference between life or death. Further restrictions on healthcare providers’ ability to perform their jobs will exacerbate the dangers of these conditions and deteriorate the care medical professionals are able to provide to pregnant people throughout the country.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned just over a year ago, many states have implemented new or stricter abortion legislation; 14 states had near-total bans during any point in pregnancy and six others had bans with limits of six to 20 weeks in June, according to the Center for American Progress. There have also been many efforts to limit these bans’ effects. Organizations like the Yellowhammer Fund are active in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Network of Abortion Funds website. Individual volunteers have also stepped in, like pilots who fly patients living in states where abortion is illegal to other places where they can access care. Additionally, the A.C.L.U. website lists 30 lawsuits regarding reproductive freedom that it has filed since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The many efforts of healthcare providers and advocacy groups are vital to provide pregnant people with care necessary for their health. In states where certain types of care are not available, it is important that providers are able to inform patients of options offered elsewhere, especially in cases where a condition is life-threatening and state laws prevent intervention to save that patient’s life. It is also crucial to protect the boundaries between different states’ legislation and prevent state governments from prosecuting legal activity from across the border.