GOP Attorney General Steve Marshall—He Wants to Prosecute People Who Help Alabamians Get Out-of-State Abortions September 3, 2023
As most of us know, the 2022 Mississippi “Dobbs” case, in which the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) overturned its 1973 pro-choice “Roe v. Wade” decision, sent the hot button abortion issue back to the states. While some states, including California and New York, strongly uphold abortion with pro-choice legislation and Democratic Governors, other states, especially Southern ones, continue to pass or revive strong anti-choice laws that severely limit women’s abortion rights. Deep South Alabama has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country. AL bans nearly all abortions (huffpost.com, 8/31/23, Rajkumar, S.). AL law makes abortion illegal at any stage with the sole exception of saving the life or health of the mother. In fact, some AL GOP lawmakers are pushing for people who get abortions to be prosecuted for murder and assault (“Rolling Stone”). Now, AL is going one step further. Not only are women barred from most abortions in AL, but also, the Yellowhammer State, under GOP Attorney General (AG) Steve Marshall, is trying to make the right of Alabama women to get out-of-state abortions extremely difficult. How? In a court filing on August 28, 2023, AG Marshall stated that he has the right to prosecute people who make travel arrangements for pregnant women to have out-of-state abortions. Marshall entered this response to lawsuits filed against him. In July, 2023, the ACLU, two women’s health centers, and the Yellowhammer Fund, an AL organization that provides “financial and practical support for those who are pregnant and require assistance,” filed lawsuits against AG Marshall. These plaintiffs argued that AG Marshall violated their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, expression, and travel. They added that AL and its officials have forced them to stop their abortion fund out of fear of opening themselves up to prosecution. AL officials have publicly stated that organizations which help pregnant AL women get an abortion out-of-state could be “criminally investigated (“The Hill,” huffpost.com, 8/31/23, Rajkumar, S., Rose, A., cnn.com).” The pro-choice plaintiffs aptly argued that “Alabama can no more regulate out-of-state abortions than another state can deem its laws legalizing abortion to apply to Alabama.” AG Marshall is asking AL Federal District Court Judge Myron Thompson to dismiss the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. In Marshall’s words, “helping a woman avoid Alabama’s restrictions by facilitating an abortion elsewhere is a conspiracy.” Marshall’s filing states, “The conspiracy is what is being punished, even if the final conduct never occurs. That conduct is Alabama-based and is within Alabama’s power to prohibit (Rose, cnn.com, 8/31/23, Thornton, email@example.com, almd.uscourts.gov/judges, huffpost.com, 8/31/23, Rajkumar).” AL is not the only state that wants to prosecute people who aid out-of-state travel for abortions. Idaho was the first state to pass a law that explicitly criminalized out-of-state travel for abortions, including assisting others with such travel (huffpost.com, 8/31/23, Rajkumar, NBC News). Texas and Oklahoma, where nearly all abortions are illegal, currently allow lawsuits against people who aid abortion access within their states’ borders (huffpost.com, 8/31/23, Rajkumar). These states might soon decide to follow Alabama’s AG Marshall in prosecuting people who aid women in their states who try to get abortions out-of-state. Who is this Steve Marshall?
Atmore, AL native Steve Marshall (58) is the son of Conrad Marshall, a representative for a sporting goods manufacturer. His mother, Mary Jo Marshall, was a secretary. Steve Marshall received a 1987 undergraduate degree in American studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He obtained his law degree from the University of Alabama Law School and in 1990, was admitted to the Alabama State Bar (ago.state.al.us/page-biography, 3/23/17). In 2011, Marshal officially changed his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican. Many white conservative Southern Democrats similarly joined “Team Red” after Richard Nixon and other GOPers pushed their “Southern Strategy” to appease anti-civil rights voters (See Clines, K., blog.al.com, 12/05/11).
Marshall practiced law in several AL firms. He became Alabama and Georgia’s district representative in the American Bar Association, ABA. He served as a legal analyst for the AL House of Representatives. He additionally became a prosecutor for the Arab and Albertville, AL municipal courts and served as Arab’s municipal attorney (state.al.us/page-biography). In 2001, Marshall was appointed by then Democratic Gov. Donald Siegelman as District Attorney for AL’s Marshall County and was unopposed in three subsequent re-elections (altoday.com, 6/19/18, al.com/news, Gattis, 2/10/17 & 5/30/17). As district attorney, Marshall assisted in the state legislature’s passage of the Brody Act. That law, makes injury to a fetus an offense punishable in addition to any injury to the mother (altoday.com, 6/19/18).
In February, 2017, Marshall was appointed AL Attorney General by GOP Gov. Robert Bentley to fill the vacancy caused by GOP’s Luther Strange’s appointment to the U.S. Senate. Marshall was elected to a full term as AG in 2018 when he defeated his opposition in a July run-off election (Aiello, 2/10/17, altoday.com, 6/19/18).
In August, 2017, Birmingham mayor William Bell draped a Confederate memorial with plastic and surrounded it with plywood. Bell stated that he did this because the U.S. should not tolerate the hatred that KKKers, neo-Nazis, fascists, and other hate groups spew. AG Marshall sued Mayor Bell and the City of Birmingham for violating the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. That law prohibits the “relocation, removal, alteration, or other disturbance of any monument on public property that has been in in place for 40 years or more (Suerth, 8/22/17, amp.cnn.com, yellowhammernews.com, Huff, 8/16/17).” Mayor Bell wanted to remove this Confederate statue, offensive to many Blacks, right after the deadly Charlottesville, VA riot. In Charlottesville, remember, white supremacists tried to keep similar monuments up and Demagogue Donald called that group “very fine people.” IMHO, AG Marshall joined the wrong side of history by fighting on behalf of racists. Marshall, apparently, has a “thing” for defending people who tried to overthrow our government in the name of white supremacy. In June, 2020, AG Marshall threatened to prosecute the City of Mobile and levy a $25,000 fine for removing the Confederate statue of Naval Admiral Raphael Semmes during the George Floyd “Black Lives Matter” protests. During the Civil War, Semmes commanded the Confederate raider “CSS Alabama”that caused a lot of damage to the U.S. Navy (Gunther, 6/09/20, mynbc15.com, wiki). AG Marshall is no advocate of immigrants’ rights. In July, 2017, he joined a group of GOP Attorneys General from Texas and several other states. This group threatened to sue the Trump administration if Trump did not terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, policy that President Obama had put into place (Aguilar, 6/29/17, texastribune.org).
And AG Marshall is also no friend of expanding voting rights. In October, 2020, Marshall successfully led a challenge that reached the Supreme Ct. of the U.S. The High Court struck down a lower federal-court order allowing curb-side voting in AL as an accommodation for voters worried about getting COVID-19 (alabamaag.gov, 10/21/20). In the area of capital punishment, AG Marshall refused to throw out the conviction of death row inmate Toforest Johnson, despite the lack of evidence of his guilt and widespread support by legal scholars to throw out the conviction. A former AL Supreme Court Chief Justice and former AL Attorney General called for throwing out the conviction (al.com/news, 4/20/22, Shelburne, 3/09/21, wbrc.com).
As late as March, 2022, during the Senate confirmation hearings on Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, AG Marshall created controversy by refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden as the “duly elected and lawfully serving” President of the United States (Lee, E., usatoday.com, 3/24/22). Marshall additionally leads the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a non-profit under the Republican Attorneys General Association. This group organized pro-Trump protests on January 6, 2021, that sought to overturn the 2020 election that Trump handily lost to Biden. This Trump-allied organization made false and baseless claims of fraud. These protests preceded the pro-Trump rioters storming the U.S. Capitol (Burkhalter, E., 1/07/21, alreporter.com).
We should not at all be surprised that AL’s AG Marshall is doing his best to keep AL women from getting help in receiving out-of-state abortions. In addition to Marshall’s previous effort as District Attorney to assist the state legislature in passing a law making injury to a fetus punishable, as recently as early January, 2023, AG Marshall stated that AL women who use prescription medication to terminate their pregnancies could be prosecuted under a chemical endangerment law. Marshall said this, even though AL’s anti-abortion law does not intend to punish women who receive abortions (cnn.com, Mizelle & Boyette, 1/12/23). This chemical endangerment law was passed in 2006, amid high drug usage in AL, in order to protect children from chemicals in the home. However, some AL district attorneys have successfully applied the law to protect fetuses of women who used drugs during pregnancy. Marshall and these district attorneys are aiming to prosecute women who use mifepristone and misoprostol to end pregnancies. The FDA allows certified pharmacies to dispense mifepristone to people who have a prescription. AL Democratic state representative Chris England stated that the state’s chemical endangerment law is “extremely clear” that under it, a woman could not be prosecuted for taking a lawfully prescribed medication. In England’s words, “any prosecutor that tries or threatens this is intentionally ignoring the law.” Emma Roth, an attorney who helps women charged with crimes related to pregnancy, properly stated on Twitter that the effect of Marshall’s comments will be to create “a culture of fear among pregnant women (cnn.com, Mizelle & Boyette, 1/12/23).” Frankly, that’s exactly what AG Marshall wants to do to stop any possible abortion by AL women.
AG Marshall’s attempt to punish people who help AL women get out-of-state abortions has already been attacked by pro-choice CA Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. On August 30, 2023, Gov. Newsom declared that CA will not cooperate with states seeking to prosecute women or doctors for seeking abortions. In Newsom’s strong words, uttered in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, he stated, “California will NOT cooperate with any state that attempts to prosecute women or doctors for receiving or providing reproductive care (Thornton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 8/31/23).”
AL Federal Court Judge Myron Thompson has scheduled a hearing on Tuesday, September 5, 2023, to consider AG Marshall’s motion to dismiss the case against him (cnn.com, Rose, 8/31/23). IMHO, the merits are strongly on the pro-choice plaintiffs’ side and Marshall should lose his case. However, don’t count on a loss by AG Marshall to end this litigation. He may appeal a defeat and try to get a friendly panel of Circuit Court of Appeals Justices, and, eventually, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) to intervene and rule in his favor. As previously stated, this case is being carefully watched by the pro-and anti-choice camps throughout the nation. “Team Blue” must be ready to fight to preserve abortion rights in this case and in any other cases related to his key right. Marshall’s stand may be popular in AL, but it does not in any way represent the overwhelming views of the American men and women throughout our nation.