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A Misleading Take on Alabama’s Abortion Law


Quick Take

An Instagram post misleadingly claims a young rape victim can be “thrown in prison” for receiving an abortion in Alabama. Under a new law, which has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge, criminal charges could be brought against doctors who perform abortions, but not women receiving them.


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A popular Instagram post attempts to shed light on a controversial abortion law approved in Alabama last year, but it doesn’t get all the facts right.

“In Iran if a 12-year-old girl is raped and impregnated by her father, she must carry the baby to term, or be thrown in prison for life. Wait, sorry, no. That’s Alabama,” the post reads.

Alabama’s abortion law — known as the Alabama Human Life Protection Act — would indeed ban most abortions. It was signed by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey on May 15, 2019.

But the law is not currently in effect, an important detail the social media post leaves out. While the law was scheduled to take effect in November 2019, a U.S. district court judge in October temporarily blocked the law, which he referred to as a “near-total ban” on the procedure.

The law is designed to challenge the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s right to an abortion until a fetus becomes viable, or can live outside the womb. In a statement after she signed the legislation into law, Ivey said: “The sponsors of this bill believe that it is time, once again, for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit this important matter, and they believe this act may bring about the best opportunity for this to occur.” 

It is true, as the post suggests, that the Alabama law — if it takes effect — would not provide exceptions for cases of rape or incest. The law only permits abortions in cases where a “physician licensed in Alabama determines that an abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” a determination that must also be confirmed in writing by a second physician.

The law defines “serious health risk” this way: “In reasonable medical judgment, the child’s mother has a condition that so complicates her medical condition that it necessitates the termination of her pregnancy to avert her death or to avert serious risk of substantial physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

It further says such a risk “does not include a condition based on a claim that the woman is suffering from an emotional condition or a mental illness which will cause her to engage in conduct that intends to result in her death or the death of her unborn child.” But it includes a caveat allowing for an abortion if “a second physician who is licensed in Alabama as a psychiatrist, with a minimum of three years of clinical experience” documents that the woman “has a diagnosed serious mental illness” that will lead her to “engage in conduct that could result in her death or the death of her unborn child.”

However, the Instagram post is wrong to claim the hypothetical 12-year-old rape victim could be “thrown in prison for life” for getting an abortion illegally. The law explicitly does not penalize women who illegally have abortions.

The law states: “No woman upon whom an abortion is performed or attempted to be performed shall be criminally or civilly liable. Furthermore, no physician confirming the serious health risk to the child’s mother shall be criminally or civilly liable for those actions.” (The law defines women as females “whether or not she has reached the age of majority,” which is 19 years old.)

That said, the law would subject doctors who perform abortions — unless a “serious health risk” is documented — to criminal charges. Providing an illegal abortion would be a Class A felony, which is punishable in the state with imprisonment of up to 99 years. Attempting an illegal abortion would be a Class C felony, which is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Alabama House of Representatives. “HB 314, The Alabama Human Life Protection Act.” (as passed 15 May 2019)

Governor Ivey Issues Statement After Signing the Alabama Human Life Protection Act.” Alabama Office of the Governor. 15 May 2019.

Shimabukuro, Jon O. “Fetal Viability and the Alabama Human Life Protection Act.” Congressional Research Service. 16 May 2019.

Yashica Robinson, M.D., et. al. v. Steven Marshall. 2:19-cv-00365-MHT-JTA. U.S. District Court, Middle District of Alabama. Opinion. 29 Oct 2019.