Abortion is still legal in Alabama and Georgia, despite new abortion bans

By Kate Smith

/ CBS News

Ala. signs near-total abortion ban into law

Abortion is still legally available in Alabama and Georgia, but after a flurry of new legislation and national attention, many women aren't sure what's still allowed in their state. Both states have passed stringent new laws that would ban virtually all abortions, but the laws have not yet taken effect.

As the focus of the news media moves to Missouri and Louisiana, which are next in line with similar bills, women in Georgia and Alabama have been left confused. Many have been flooding the phone lines of health care providers seeking answers.

At a call center in Atlanta, six Planned Parenthood employees field calls for patients in Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. After Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed into law the state's so-called "heartbeat bill," an effective ban on abortions after six weeks into a pregnancy, there was an uptick in calls from women concerned the new legislation would impact their upcoming appointments. Calls skyrocketed into the hundreds as Alabama's near-total abortion ban moved through the the statehouse; it was signed into law this week.

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"It's been an influx like we've never seen before," said Barbara Ann Luttrell, the director of communications for Planned Parenthood Southeast, in a telephone interview with CBS News on Thursday. "We've been completely inundated."

The center has received an unprecedented number of calls from women concerned that their upcoming appointments would no longer be valid, Luttrell said. Victim of rapes and domestic violence in Alabama have called in concerned that they no longer had a choice of whether or not to terminate their pregnancies, she said.

The calls have gotten to the point that the Atlanta-based helpline couldn't handle them on their own, said Luttrell. For the first time ever, they've set up an automated message for women with questions about the new laws in Georgia, reassuring them that abortion is still legal.

The organization is working to add prerecorded information about Alabama's recently-passed ban.

In Alabama, one of the last remaining abortion providers, Dr. Yashica Robinson, has also had her phone line flooded with women concerned that her clinic was forced to close and that their future appointments were effectively canceled. She reassured each one that abortion is still safe and legal in Alabama, at least for now.

But Robinson said her biggest concern with the new legislation is the negative sentiment it creates around abortion.

"Abortion is already so stigmatized," Robinson said in a telephone interview with CBS News on Friday morning. "Women have it ingrained in us that abortion is bad. For there to be a law has been passed that takes this right away from us, it makes that even more concrete.

Georgia's abortion ban isn't scheduled to be implemented until January 2020. Alabama's law is scheduled to go into effect in November. Both are expected to face legal challenges that could tie them up in the courts for far longer.

Both laws, among many similar bills passed by state legislators, are in direct conflict with Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that protects a woman's legal right to seek an abortion up until fetal viability, which typically happens about 24 to 25 weeks in a pregnancy.

But the sponsor of Alabama's abortion ban, Rep. Terri Collins, has said that's the point. The state lawmaker called the bill a "direct attack" on Roe v. Wade and anticipates that the bill will be contested by abortion rights advocates and potentially make its way to the high court. Legislators in Georgia, Ohio, Missouri and other states that have enacted similar laws have echoed Rep. Collins' goal.

Once the Georgia and Alabama's bills are challenged by abortion rights advocates, it could trigger a years-long battle before it makes its way to the Supreme Court. During that time, the laws could be blocked from being implemented while the courts considered arguments.

Though the procedure remains legal for now, women still face plenty of obstacles to get an abortion in Georgia and Alabama, which before their recent legislation were already some of the most hostile states toward abortion access.

In Georgia, any woman considering having an abortion is required to receive state-mandated counseling that's intended to discourage her from going through with the procedure. After that, she's required to wait 24 hours before actually obtaining the procedure, according to information compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization. Parents of pregnant teens under the age of 18 must be notified before she can have an abortion. After 22 weeks into a pregnancy, abortions are no longer legally available in the state.

Alabama's current abortion regulations are even stricter. After state-mandated counseling, women are required to wait 48 hours before getting an abortion. Minors are required to get parental consent in order to receive the procedure and abortions after 21.6 weeks into a pregnancy are not allowed in the state.

Only three abortion clinics are left in Alabama.

On Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law House Bill 314, legislation that completely bans abortion in the state except if a woman's health is in serious danger. There is no exception for victims of rape or incest. Providing an abortion would be criminalized, and doctors who perform an abortion could face up to 99 years in prison.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have promised to challenge the legislation long before the law is implemented.

"We vowed to fight this dangerous abortion ban every step of the way and we meant what we said," said Staci Fox, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Southeast, in a statement emailed to CBS News on Wednesday. "We haven't lost a case in Alabama yet and we don't plan to start now."

First published on May 17, 2019 / 2:55 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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