The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Wednesday affirmed [opinion, PDF] a lower court’s decision invalidating an Alabama state law [JURIST report] prohibiting dilation and evacuation abortions, the most common second-trimester abortion procedure.
Writing for a unanimous panel, Chief Judge Ed Carnes [official profile] upheld the lower court after reviewing for clear error its decision to invalidate the 2016 Alabama law after finding it created an undue burden on a women’s right to pre-fetal viability abortions. The 2016 law restricted the methods of abortion for the roughly 7 percent of the state’s abortions that are performed after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The opinion strongly distanced the opinion from both Supreme Court precedent and the district court’s findings saying: “In our judicial system, there is only one Supreme Court, and we are not it. As one of the ‘inferior Courts,’ we follow its decisions. … The primary factfinder is the district court, and we are not it. Our role is to apply the law the Supreme Court has laid down to the facts the district court found.” In an introductory paragraph, Carnes made clear that the panel viewed itself as being forced to apply an aberration of constitutional law.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] brought the lawsuit [JURIST report] against Alabama soon after the law was passed in 2016. Andrew Beck, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said [press release], “The upshot of this ruling is that women’s health, not politics, will guide important medical decisions about pregnancy. Laws like this are part of a larger strategy by anti-abortion politicians to push abortion out of reach entirely. Today, the court affirmed a woman’s right to get the care she needs.”
According to the ACLU, similar bans in Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas have all been blocked when challenged in court. The ACLU is currently challenging a similar law in Kentucky [JURIST report].