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The Legal Fight Over Alabama's Abortion Ban is Underway... Now What?

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The latest fallout related to Alabama’s new abortion law could occur this week in Tuscaloosa.

The University of Alabama's board of trustees will consider whether to return a record $21.5M gift. The donor encouraged students to boycott the university following passage of Alabama’s controversial abortion law that makes performing an abortion a felony in virtually all cases.

The legal battle over the Alabama’s abortion ban officially got underway last week. Both the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and Planned Parenthood Southeast filed suit on behalf of the state’s three abortion clinics. They say the new law is blatantly unconstitutional. But lawmakers say that was the plan all along.

APR’s Alex AuBuchon has more on what’s next for Alabama’s controversial abortion ban.

“We want the government out of our life, we want them out of our business.”

That was Democratic State Senator Linda Coleman-Madison.

“We them out of our bedrooms. Now, you’re in my womb. I want you out. You don’t control this. You don’t own this!”

She spoke out against Alabama’s abortion law, which was up for a vote in the State Senate. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton wasn’t a fan either…

“You just aborted the state of Alabama, yourselves. And all of you should be put in jail for this abortion that you just laid on the state of Alabama. This is just a shame, it’s a disgrace and it’s a travesty!”

That bill was signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey earlier this month.

“This will certainly be one of the direct challenges to Roe vs. Wade. That’s the intent of the legislation.”

That’s Mat Staver, the founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel. Alabamians will know him best for defending Roy Moore in court on both occasions he was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court.

Staver says this new law is part of a larger trend.

“It is part of the tidal wave that is happening across America, state after state are drawing a line in the sand, and they’re telling the Supreme Court it’s time for a change.”

But Randall Marshall, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, doesn’t see the point of all the new legislation.

“Whether you are for or against access to abortion, the law really makes no sense.”

Marshall says that’s because there’s already plenty of ammunition for a challenge to Roe v. Wade.

“There are already 14 cases across the country in the pipeline including 4 cases currently at the Supreme Court -- one from Alabama -- that would provide the vehicle, if there is to be such a vehicle.”

But Staver says those cases don’t go far enough. Alabama’s new law does.

“This gets really to the heart of the issue, that, at the moment of the conception, what we’re dealing with is a human life that’s entitled to the right to life.”

He says that makes a difference when it comes to Roe v. Wade.

“The Supreme Court in 1973 said that would be fundamentally different, and change the outcome, but we don’t need to address that. Well, that’s the fundamental issue.”

The legal fight over Alabama’s abortion ban is already underway. The ACLU of Alabama and Planned Parenthood Southeast filed suit on May 24, and the case will likely wind its way through the courts for the next few years.

That could be an expensive proposition for the state of Alabama. Back in 2014, the state passed a law requiring doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. That bill was shot down along with a similar Texas law in federal court.

“The state immediately dismissed its appeal and ended up paying $1.7 million to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood for having passed that unconstitutional law.”

Additional abortion restrictions the state already passed will likely hurt as well.

“No matter what happens with the case that’s already at the U.S. Supreme Court, we’re already entitled to attorney’s fees for the 2,000 foot ban, and we expect that to be several hundred thousand dollars. If the Supreme Court denies review on the methods ban, we expect the fees to exceed what we got on the hospital admitting privileges, and is likely to exceed $2 million.”

But it’s not just legal fees Alabama needs to worry about when it comes to the abortion ban.

“We’re going to examine where in the state’s $52 billion pension fund there are investments that benefit Alabama connections, either through companies that are located down there, or have branch offices down there. And I’m going to make suggestions that we disinvest the state of Maryland – particularly taxpayer dollars – from the state of Alabama until they repeal.”

That’s Peter Franchot, the comptroller for the state of Maryland.

He says he was convinced to act by his daughter.

“She called me and said, ‘Dad, I am sick to my stomach with what Alabama just did with that legislation. Do something!’”

Franchot also plans to let his peers in other states know what he’s doing with Maryland’s retirement and pension fund.

“I will send them an explanation of what we’re doing and what we find down the road. It’ll take a couple of weeks before we can do the analyses. But I assume there will be more states jumping in, and I hope there are a lot of private companies and sports associations – NCAA and others – that all get involved in this.”

He says action like this is key for change.

“You know, the only thing that Alabama senators will listen to – they’re not going to listen to me, but they will listen to the sound of money.”

Franchot isn’t alone. Colorado’s Secretary of State and Los Angeles County have banned official travel to Alabama. The hashtag Boycott Alabama has trended on Twitter. And recently, major University of Alabama donor Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. has encouraged students to boycott the school and for people and businesses to boycott the state over the law.

University trustees are considering returning Culverhouse's $21.5 million donation to the University of Alabama School of Law and renaming the school, which had been named after Culverhouse. A statement from the University of Alabama system says this had to do with ongoing demands Culverhouse made about the school's operation. The statement reads "none of the issues... had anything to do with the passage of legislation in which the University had no role."

As the abortion ban makes its way through the courts, Mat Staver says he’s ready to jump in.

“Liberty Counsel is ready, willing, and able to defend the case directly or to file amicus briefs in court. We support the Alabama legislation and we will do everything possible in our power to defend this law.”

But in the meantime, Randall Marshall wants to make clear that as of now, nothing has changed.

“Abortion is legal, abortion is safe, and it will continue to be so.”

At least, as long as the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t rule otherwise.

Disclosure: Alabama Public Radio is a service of The University of Alabama

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