WASHINGTON (OSV News) — Days after the federal government signaled it would allow abortion pills to be distributed through the postal service even in states that have banned or restricted the procedure, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall indicated that women who undergo medication abortions in the state could still be subject to prosecution.
The remarks prompted some pro-life leaders to renew their objections to lawmakers seeking to criminalize women who obtain an abortion as incompatible with their life-affirming mission.
Alabama’s Human Life Protection Act criminalizes abortion providers but specifically states that women who undergo abortions are exempt from prosecution. However, Marshall revealed Jan. 10 that women who use abortion drugs could be prosecuted under a different state law, which has been used to prosecute women for using illicit drugs during pregnancy.
“The Human Life Protection Act targets abortion providers, exempting women ‘upon whom an abortion is performed or attempted to be performed’ from liability under the law,” Marshall said in an emailed statement to AL.com. “It does not provide an across-the-board exemption from all criminal laws, including the chemical-endangerment law — which the Alabama Supreme Court has affirmed and reaffirmed protects unborn children.”
Marshall told the outlet in an email that “promoting the remote prescription and administration of abortion pills endangers both women and unborn children.”
“Elective abortion — including abortion pills — is illegal in Alabama,” he said. “Nothing about the Justice Department’s guidance changes that. Anyone who remotely prescribes abortion pills in Alabama does so at their own peril: I will vigorously enforce Alabama law to protect unborn life.”
A spokesperson for Marshall did not immediately respond to a request for comment from OSV News about whether he would seek to prosecute women who use abortion drugs under the alternative law.
Marshall’s comments follow on last year’s attempt by lawmakers in Louisiana to advance a bill that would criminally charge women for obtaining an abortion. It was withdrawn amid heavy opposition from Catholic and other pro-life leaders.
In a May 12, 2022, letter to state lawmakers following the leak of the Supreme Court’s then-drafted decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization but prior to its formal ruling, national pro-life leaders wrote that they oppose criminalizing women in any potential new abortion restrictions.
These leaders included Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life and its lobbying arm; Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, then-chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, the founder and president of New Wave Feminists.
“As national and state pro-life organizations, representing tens of millions of pro-life men, women and children across the country, let us be clear: We state unequivocally that any measure seeking to criminalize or punish women is not pro-life and we stand firmly opposed to such efforts,” their letter said.
Herndon-De La Rosa told OSV News in an interview that Marshall’s comments were “political theater.”
“You have the exploiter and you have the exploited,” Herndon-De La Rosa said. “So the exploited is the terrified pregnant person. They’re the ones incredibly vulnerable and desperate right now.”
Herndon-De La Rosa said the unborn child is” absolutely the first victim” of an abortion, but “so often the pregnant person is the secondary victim.”
“We don’t ever go after the exploited,” as a matter of principle, Herndon-De La Rosa said.
Herndon-De La Rosa said that “authentically pro life people who understand the desperation a woman’s going through in that moment,” and are interested in addressing the root causes of abortion, not punishing women who have them.
“They realize that there’s so many other facets that are causing a woman to feel like she has no choice but to terminate,” she said.
The Biden administration recently moved to permit the sale of abortion pills in retail pharmacies for patients with a prescription rather than requiring the pills be distributed directly by a physician or clinic. The Justice Department also recently said it would permit the U.S. Postal Service to deliver prescription abortion drugs, even in states that have restricted abortion.