Last summer, lawyers for Planned Parenthood challenged two provisions of a new abortion law in Texas. One provision places strict limits on how abortion-inducing pills are prescribed. The other requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of a clinic. A lower court decided the restrictions were unconstitutional. But, on appeal, the Federal Court ruled Texas was within its rights to pass and enforce the restrictions.
Alabama's legislature passed a similar law in 2013. The Women's Health and Safety Act, however, has been tied up in federal court for the past year.
Corky Strickland, from Samford's Cumberland School of Law, weighed in on what the decision in Texas could do for Alabama's law.
Stirckland says Federal Judge Myron Thompson, here in Alabama, doesn't have to follow the decision made in Texas. But he says any decision coming out of a U.S. Court of Appeals is going to be highly persuasive.
"Now that we have an appellate opinion on this issue, albeit a different statute, I'm sure he'll take that into account," said Strickland.
He says, when deciding the constitutionality of the regulations in question, the court has to consider two things. "Number one, they have to look at whether there is a rational basis for the regulation. Does the legislature have some sort of legitimate purpose in mind? and is this regulation rationally related to the pursuit of that purpose?."
The second part of the analysis had to do with undue burden.
"The court has to look at whether the regulation places an undue burden on the woman's right to choice, particularly in the first trimester and parts of the pregnancy where abortion is constitutionally protected."
Judge Thompson is expected to make a decision on the Women's Health and Safety Act on April 2nd.
However he rules, Stickland suspects this will continue beyond his decision. "Given the relative lack of precedent on that particular issue, except for the one fifth circuit decision, almost inevitably it will be appealed to the 11th circuit and they will take their own look at it. Once they rule, it's possible that the case will go on to the U.S. Supreme court or it could be that the U.S. Supreme court waits for other opinions from other courts," said Strickland.
Strickland says part of the reason why laws relating to abortion are so controversial is because the right to an abortion comes from the Due Process Clause. He says the definition of due process can be vague and interpreted differently.