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Appeals court rules against Alabama abortion restriction

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday struck down an Alabama law that sought to ban the most commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure.

The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta affirmed a lower court’s decision that the 2016 ban on the procedure known as dilation and evacuation was an unconstitutional restriction on abortion access.

The ruling is the latest blow to efforts in some states to ban the second-trimester abortion procedure in which the fetus is removed in pieces with forceps. Courts have blocked similar laws in Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the Alabama law, said it is the first time an appellate court has ruled on the constitutionality of a dilation and evacuation ban.

Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said the ruling means Alabama politicians can’t put an “ideological agenda” over a woman’s heath and decision-making.

“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,” Andrew Beck, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said he was disappointed in the outcome and his office is considering whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I am disappointed that the 11th Circuit sided with the lower court in this case, but it is encouraging that the court recognized the state’s important and legitimate interests in ending barbaric abortion procedures — in this case, procedures that literally tear apart babies living inside their mothers’ wombs,” Marshall said.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in 2016 blocked enforcement of the Alabama law, saying the ban would cause Alabama women to lose access to abortion in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy because of the unavailability of other methods.

Alabama, with support from other conservative states, appealed the decision, leading to Wednesday’s ruling. Twenty-two states signed an amicus brief in support of Alabama, arguing the law is constitutional and the wrong legal standard was applied.

Politicians seeking to ban the practice refer to it by the nonmedical term “dismemberment” abortion. Alabama argued in court filings that it is inhumane.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has described dilation and evacuation as the safest and most common abortion procedure in the U.S. in the second trimester. According to court records in the case, 93 percent of abortions in Alabama occur before 15 weeks of pregnancy. For the seven percent of abortions that occur after 15 weeks, 99 percent of them are by dilation and evacuation.

In the 11th Circuit decision, Chief Judge Ed Carnes wrote that “dismemberment” is an accurate description for the procedure, but ruled against the state.

“In our judicial system, there is only one Supreme Court, and we are not it,” he wrote.

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