Alabama attorney general walks back statements about abortion pills

By Amy Yurkanin 

One week after the federal government made it easier to get abortion pills, (ABOVE, RIGHT) Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said Tuesday that women in Alabama who use those pills to end pregnancies could be prosecuted. The statement has now been retracted. (AP)

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall appeared to walk back statements made earlier in the week about prosecuting women for taking abortion pills in a recent interview with a Montgomery television station.

On Wednesday evening, WSFA published an interview with Marshall where he said law enforcement would not go after women who take abortion pills, but could pursue charges against people who provide the medications. Alabama’s abortion law, the Human Life Protection Act, makes it illegal to perform an abortion but the law can not be used against women receiving abortions.

“Again, not targeting the woman herself, but in fact, targeting those providers to induce the abortion,” Marshall told WSFA. “There is a very specific provision in the law the legislator passed just a few years ago that specifically exempts the woman from criminal prosecution. It does target those who are providers”

Earlier in the week Marshall released a statement following federal changes that could make it easier for some women to obtain medications misoprostol and mifepristone that are often used in early abortions. Marshall initially said in an emailed statement that law enforcement and prosecutors could rely on an older state statute, the chemical endangerment law that has been used to prosecute women who use illegal 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 told on Tuesday in an email. “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.”

Lawmakers passed the chemical endangerment law in 2006 to protect young children from meth lab fumes. Prosecutors soon began using it against women who use drugs during pregnancy and justices on the Alabama Supreme Court upheld those cases in 2013. In 2016, lawmakers amended the law so it couldn’t be used against women who use legally prescribed medications.

Alabama Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) took to Twitter Tuesday to challenge the legal basis for using chemical endangerment charges against women who lawfully obtained prescriptions for abortion pills.

A spokesman for the attorney general did not respond to emails or phone calls from on Thursday and Friday seeking clarification about Marshall’s position.