By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday sidestepped a major new challenge to abortion rights by declining to hear Alabama’s bid to revive a Republican-backed state law that would have effectively banned the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The justices left in place a lower court ruling that struck down the 2016 law, which would have criminalized a method called dilation and evacuation that is the most common type of abortion performed during the second trimester of a pregnancy.
The law in question is different than an even more strict Alabama measure signed by Republican Governor Kay Ivey in May. The new law, also facing a legal challenge, would ban nearly all abortions in the state, even in cases of rape and incest.
Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion agreeing with the court’s decision not to hear the issue now but making clear that he would vote to uphold such laws.
“The notion that anything in the Constitution prevents states from passing laws prohibiting the dismembering of a living child is implausible,” Thomas wrote.
The Alabama law was one of a growing number passed by Republican legislators at the state level imposing a variety of restrictions on abortion.
The lower court, however, found that Alabama’s law was an infringement on a woman’s constitutional right to abortion recognized in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. A ruling by the conservative-majority Supreme Court upholding the Alabama measure could have chipped away at the Roe decision, which legalized abortion nationwide.
In the method targeted in the Alabama law, sometimes called D&E, a woman’s cervix is dilated and the contents of the uterus removed. Alabama calls this method “dismemberment abortion.”
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)