Alabama Spent 8 Years Fighting to Put Minors Seeking Abortion on Trial

The "lawyers for fetuses" law was blocked by a district court in 2017. The courts are still fighting over it in 2021.

Photo of man's hands signing papers
If Alabama had its way, a lawyer would have been allowed to cross-examine minors seeking an abortion as if the lawyer were representing an actual person and not a cluster of cells. Shutterstock

What’s that saying? The devil works hard but anti-choice lawmakers trying to pass nonsense bills that give a fetus an attorney work harder? That’s right, it’s time to check in on some anti-choice tomfoolery in the courts.

Last week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked an Alabama law that would have required minors seeking an abortion to endure a trial-like hearing, complete with a lawyer to represent their fetus or embryo.

This lawyer would have been allowed to cross-examine the minor on why they were seeking an abortion as if the lawyer were representing an actual person and not, say, a cluster of cells.

You might be feeling a vague sense of deja vu reading that. That’s probably because we were writing about this when Alabama lawmakers first passed this law back in 2014:

According to the [American Civil Liberties Union] complaint, no other judicial bypass law in the country treats the process of a minor seeking a bypass as a quasi-criminal proceeding the way the Alabama law now does, particularly with the inclusion of a prosecuting district attorney. “What the law says is that Alabama has an interest not just in protecting these minors, but in protecting what it calls ‘potential life’ or ‘fetal life,’ and so really the district attorney is there essentially as a prosecutor on behalf of the fetus,” said [the ACLU lawyer].

The “lawyers for fetuses” law was blocked by a district court in 2017. It’s 2021, and the courts are still fighting over it. That’s the legal landscape for abortion rights and access in this country even without a big fight at the Supreme Court later this fall.

In the 60-page opinion, the 11th circuit’s three-judge panel wrote:

We see no problem that the new law helps to cure. … Going to court can be intimidating for minors in any setting, but that is particularly true for minors who seek judicial authorization for an abortion, which requires placing in the government’s hands a decision that will change the course of one’s life forever.

And lest you think this is just a problem for Alabamans, Imani Gandy, Rewire News Group‘s senior editor for law and policy, covered a similar law introduced in Texas just this year:

If you are a pregnant minor living in Texas and you want to get an abortion, you might have to go to court and be cross-examined by your fetus’ attorney.

Yes, you read me correctly—your fetus’ attorney. Try not to pass out at the sheer absurdity of it all while I explain.

If you’re looking for a fun (not fun) thought experiment, ask yourself what kind of questions a lawyer for a fetus might ask. Things like, “Do you think that fetus wants to be born?” or the classic, “What if it grows up to cure cancer?”

Like all abortion restrictions, laws requiring fetuses be represented in court have one end goal: restricting abortion.

This has been adapted from a Twitter thread.