In its never-ending pursuit to outlaw abortion throughout the state, Alabama has floated some fairly extreme and wackadoo laws: a “fetal heartbeat” bill making abortion illegal after six weeks; a regulate-abortion-clinics-like-sex-offenders bill, which forbid clinics from operating within 2,000 feet of a public elementary or middle school; and a 2014 give-fetuses-an-attorney law that required pregnant minors seeking abortions to undergo a trial-like process.
The pretexts legislators cited to justify these laws were logically problematic, to say the least. The alleged premise for the law that treats abortion clinics like sex offenders was to minimize disruption at schools that could be caused by anti-abortion activists, which the law would achieve by closing the clinics themselves. (Never mind that there existed no record of anti-abortion protests disrupting schools in Alabama.)
Now a federal judge has drawn a constitutional line on the 2014 law that would put pregnant teenage girls on trial and effectively nullify their constitutional rights to have an abortion.
The judge sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, which sued to block the law shortly after legislators passed it, noting that no such law exists in any other state.
Alabama already requires a minor seeking an abortion to obtain consent from her parents, or ask a judge to bypass the requirement if, say, she was raped and impregnated by her parent.
But the 2014 statue allowed a judge to appoint a guardian ad litem “for the interests of the child” and invite a prosecutor to question the minor in court. The prosecutor could even call a witness to testify against the minor--and on behalf of the fetus.
The state had argued that the law’s purpose was to determine through a trial-like process whether the minor was mature enough to decide to terminate her unborn child. Legislators maintained that this would still be a “confidential, and expeditious option for a teenager who seeks an abortion without parental consent.”
By this twisted logic, forcing a minor to sit in court and listen as a witness --a teacher, a neighbor, family friend, or anyone else the district attorney subpoenaed--laid out reasons why her fetus deserved life outside the womb or why she was too immature to choose to have an abortion was somehow “confidential.”
Even if the judge ruled in her favor, the law would have permitted a district attorney to appeal the case to a higher court, allowing this “expeditious” process to go on indefinitely.
By the time the court resolved her case, it could be otherwise illegal for the teen to terminate her pregnancy.
The process seemed to be intended so the court could determine whether a minor was too immature to have an abortion, yet somehow mature enough to carry her baby to term. In other words, the court could rule that it was in the immature mother’s best interest to have a child.
That’s some serious mental gymnastics.
Ultimately, the federal judge who ruled that the law was unconstitutional did so because it placed "an undue burden on a minor in Alabama who seeks an abortion through a judicial bypass."
The idea of a fetus’ lawyer arguing against the desired outcome of the woman carrying that fetus sounds almost medieval. But it wouldn’t be the first time a fetus was called to the witness stand: in 2011, activists agitating for a “heartbeat bill” to pass in Ohio hauled pregnant women in front of a state legislature so lawmakers could hear these fetus’s life-affirming heartbeats.
When a nine-week-old fetus bumbled its testimony (its heartbeat was described as “only faintly audible and far from distinct”), a 15-week-old fetus was called to the stand as back-up--and performed better.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed the "heartbeat bill" in December 2016 on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, yet it was revived by Ohio lawmakers in January.