Berkeley Law dean speaks against Alabama abortion ban

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UC Berkeley School of Law Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law Erwin Chemerinsky has spoken out against the recent Alabama abortion ban, describing it as an opportunity for conservatives to overturn Roe v. Wade.

According to Chemerinsky, the Alabama anti-abortion law, which was signed May 15 to go into effect in November, presents a direct avenue to strike down the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, which preserves a woman’s right to an abortion before the fetus is viable. Chemerinsky spoke out against all “state laws prohibiting abortion before viability” and deemed these laws “unconstitutional” and in conflict with precedent established by Roe v. Wade.

“Alabama’s law is the most extreme law, prohibiting all abortions and imposing a 99 year prison sentence on doctors performing abortions,” Chemerinsky said in an email.

Chemerinsky added that “a number of states recently have adopted laws that would prohibit abortions after the 6th week of pregnancy. All of these laws are clearly unconstitutional.”

Rachel Johnson-Farias, executive director of the Berkeley Law Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice, explained why she believes Chemerinsky’s advocacy is important.

“As dean of Berkeley Law School and a constitutional law scholar, Dean Chemerinsky has a unique platform that not everyone would use as he has,” Johnson-Farias said in an email.

Chemerinsky expressed worry that the majority-Republican Supreme Court justices would not follow precedent or bend to public opinion in upholding Roe v. Wade. Although precedent has been used for decades, Chemerinsky recently defended Gilbert Hyatt in front of the Supreme Court in a tax case and lost when precedent was overruled.

In a 2017 article published in the Texas Law Review, Chemerinsky highlighted President Donald Trump’s intentions to limit abortion access by appointing judges to the Supreme Court who “oppose this constitutional right.”

According to Johnson-Farias, the personal impact of anti-abortion legislations could vary by state, but from an ideological standpoint, these decisions affect women regardless.

“In states seeking to ban abortion, these series of laws represent yet another assault on women that will have dire consequences,” Johnson-Farias said in an email. “No matter what state you’re in, these bans send a clear message that women’s inequality is very much alive and well.”

Chemerinsky also stated that the individuals who would suffer most from restrictive abortion laws in their states of residence are women with fewer resources. He explained that it will be more difficult for women from low-income backgrounds to travel to another state to get an abortion. Those who are desperate will be forced to resort to risky, illegal abortion methods or give birth to  unwanted children.

“Without a reproductive justice framework, we are left with the series of anti-choice, anti-republican laws we see today; laws that do not respect bodily autonomy and that bring the state into a private choice,” Johnson-Farias said in an email.

Contact Sasha Langholz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LangholzSasha‏.