Reason Roundup

Women Who Take Abortion Pills Could Face Criminal Charges, Alabama Attorney General Says

Plus: Lawsuit challenges ban on scraping court records, state marijuana convictions lead to longer federal sentences, and more...


Alabama's attorney general said he could prosecute women who take abortion pills, despite language in the state's new abortion ban that ensures it won't be used against people who receive abortions.

The Human Life Protection Act, which criminalizes abortion at any stage, is only meant to be used against abortion providers. It was signed into law in 2019 and took effect last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. But an older law could still allow for the prosecution of women who terminate their pregnancies, said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.

That state's law against "chemical endangerment" of a child was originally passed to punish people who exposed children to meth labs. But it's been used to prosecute numerous pregnant women accused of taking drugs, including marijuana alone. (The law was even recently used to arrest and jail a woman who wasn't even pregnant after her young child wrongly told a social worker that she was.)

And Alabama's Supreme Court has upheld the usage of the child endangerment law against pregnant women who take illegal drugs. Since abortion pills are now an illegal drug in Alabama, this would seem to fit.

"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," said Marshall in a statement to "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."

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for retail pharmacies to dispense abortion-inducing drugs. CVS and Walgreens said they would do so; activists are already planning pickets for early February.

The FDA's rule change doesn't mean pharmacies in states with abortion bans can do so, of course. But it could make it easier for women in places where abortion is illegal to obtain the pills elsewhere.

In general, the discreet and easy-to-use nature of abortion via pill (as opposed to surgery) makes it much easier for women to evade anti-abortion laws. This has authorities in some states worried—and looking for ways to prevent residents from getting their hands on these pills and to hold people accountable when they do.

Knowing what we know about Alabama's prosecutions of pregnant women already, Marshall's statement doesn't seem like an empty threat at all. And it's likely we'll see at least a few other states start to do the same.

Even before the Supreme Court's ruling last summer, some states have prosecuted women who self-induce abortion or attempt to. Though the charges were later dropped, Texas last April jailed Lizelle Herrera for two days on murder charges after accusing her of a self-induced abortion when she miscarried. Georgia has done the same (though also dropping the charges eventually). And an Indiana woman, Purvi Patel, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide after allegedly taking abortion pills that caused her to have a stillbirth.


Bans on automated data collection of court records may violate the First Amendment. A federal district judge in South Carolina will allow a case alleging as much to proceed. More from the American Civil Liberties Union:

The decision came in NAACP v. Kohn, a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of South Carolina, and the NAACP on behalf of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. The lawsuit asserts that the Court Administration's blanket ban on scraping the Public Index – the state's repository of court filings – violates the First Amendment by restricting access to, and use of, public information, and prohibiting recording public information in ways that enable subsequent speech and advocacy. The South Carolina NAACP seeks to scrape online housing court records so that it can identify tenants who have had eviction actions filed against them, to help them fight those eviction actions, and conduct statewide advocacy.

"The district court properly recognized that a categorical prohibition on scraping public court records implicates the First Amendment," Esha Bhandari, deputy director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said. "Scraping is often a necessary method of gathering public data efficiently, and enabling digital-era research and journalism in the public interest."


Past marijuana possession convictions in states that have since legalized or decriminalized the drug are still coming back to haunt people. A new report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission finds hundreds of people last year were sentenced to more serious terms in federal prison because of prior marijuana possession convictions in states that have since liberalized marijuana laws. "While federal marijuana possession cases have declined dramatically since 2014 as more state legalization laws have come online, the report highlights the long-term consequences of cannabis convictions in terms of federal sentencing," notes Marijuana Moment. "It also reveals how many federal defendants face enhanced sentencing due to state-level marijuana possession offenses even after their state's policy evolves to decriminalize or legalize cannabis."


• President Joe Biden is at it again with student loans.

• The United Nations says Earth's ozone layer is on track to recover by 2040.

• House Republicans plan to vote on a measure that would abolish income taxes—replacing them with a national consumption tax—and the Internal Revenue Service. Even if the bill succeeds in the Republican-controlled House, it has no chance of passing the Senate. But a lot of House legislation is largely performative, and it's nice to see House lawmakers focusing on things like this rather than culture war issues or measures that grow the government. (More on the legislation here.)

House of the Dragon, Abbott Elementary, and The White Lotus were among the big winners at last night's Golden Globe Awards.

• Illinois has banned the manufacture, sale, delivery, purchase, or possession of "any assault weapon or .50 caliber rifle."

PBS NewsHour has a nice episode on the battle to decriminalize sex work in Thailand.

• Timothy B. Lee is skeptical about a paper co-authored by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who argues that recent inflation is driven not by stimulus spending or fiscal policy but by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. "In a nutshell, I didn't find it very persuasive," writes Lee in his newsletter, Full Stack Economics. More explanation as to why here.

• Seattle's school district is suing social media companies for allegedly violating Washington state's public nuisance law.

• Michael Munger on how artificial intelligence will shape the future of writing.

• A bill in Arkansas would classify all drag performances as "adult oriented businesses," which are subject to special regulations.

• U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D–Wis.) wants to open up the House floor to C-SPAN cameras.