Judge Allows Suit Over Alabama Abortion Travel To Go Forward

Abortion rights groups have sued Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall after he said he would prosecute anyone who facilitates legal out-of-state abortions.


A federal judge has allowed a lawsuit against Alabama's Attorney General Steve Marshall to go forward. The decision comes after Marshall filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that several abortion rights groups lacked standing to sue him for threatening to prosecute anyone who helps an Alabama woman obtain an out-of-state abortion.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson declined to dismiss the case, ruling that the abortion rights group had standing and that Marshall's stated plan to prosecute those who aid in abortions likely violated several key Constitutional rights. 

"Alabama can no more restrict people from going to, say, California to engage in what is lawful there than California can restrict people from coming to Alabama to do what is lawful here," U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson wrote. "Therefore, the plaintiffs here correctly contend that the Attorney General cannot constitutionally prosecute people for acts taken within the State meant to facilitate lawful out-of-state conduct, including obtaining an abortion."

The case, which combines several lawsuits from different abortion rights groups, came after Marshall made multiple statements in July 2022 threatening to prosecute those who helped facilitate a legal out-of-state abortion under Alabama's anti-conspiracy law. 

One of the suits, filed last year by the Yellowhammer Fund, an Alabama abortion fund, states that Mashall "has chilled the First Amendment rights of helpers…and sought to apply Alabama's laws extraterritorially to prevent aid to pregnant Alabamians seeking to exercise their federal constitutional rights to travel out of Alabama and access lawful abortion care in other states."

Last August, Marshall filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the abortion rights groups didn't have standing, and that even if they did have standing "the lawfulness of abortions in other States does not render his threatened prosecutions unconstitutional," according to Monday's decision.

However, Thompson didn't buy it. While he sided with Marshall on one count—dismissing a claim from the Yellowhammer fund that Thompson says the group didn't substantiate—he roundly rejected the idea that Alabama could punish an individual or organization for facilitating legal out-of-state conduct.

"The right to travel has deep historical roots, and it has long encompassed more than the mere movement of persons across borders," Thompson wrote. "Indeed, as the court will explain, travel has consistently been protected precisely so that people would be free to engage in lawful conduct while traveling."

Thompson continued, concluding that the "Attorney General cannot constitutionally prosecute people for acts taken within the State meant to facilitate lawful out of state conduct, including obtaining an abortion," adding that Marshall's threats, "if carried out, would violate the right to travel and the freedom of speech."