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A Guy Sued an Alabama Clinic Over His Girlfriend’s Alleged Abortion. A Judge Just Threw the Case Out.

Alabama's "fetal personhood" law makes lawsuits like this possible.

by Carter Sherman
Sep 3 2019, 3:10pm

A lawsuit once thought to be the first to give an aborted fetus legal rights has been tossed.

Madison County Circuit Judge Chris Comer dismissed a case Friday originally brought by Ryan Magers against the Alabama Women’s Clinic, over an abortion that Magers’ girlfriend had allegedly received there in 2017.

Comer concluded that Magers can’t ask for monetary damages for wrongful death under Alabama law because, as an attorney for the clinic pointed out in July arguments, abortion remains legal in the state.

Still, the case remains a landmark for anti-abortion activists. Magers had petitioned to sue the clinic on behalf of the estate of an aborted fetus, dubbed “Baby Roe.” In March, an Alabama probate judge granted his petition.

"This is the first estate that I'm aware of that has ever been opened for an aborted baby," Magers’ lawyer, Brent Helms, told local reporters at the time.

READ: 6 states are now rejecting federal money because of Trump's abortion 'gag rule'

In July, Comer told both sides that he expected his decision to be appealed — regardless of which side he supported.

Magers’ lawsuit is also among the first to take advantage of a 2018 Alabama ballot measure that made Alabama the first state in the nation to add a “fetal personhood clause” to its constitution. Under that measure, Alabama’s constitution now recognizes “the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.”

In June, Marshae Jones also dealt with the effects of that amendment. The Alabama woman was indicted for manslaughter over allegations that she had beat up a coworker who ultimately shot her, resulting in the loss of her five-month-old fetus. That indictment was ultimately dropped — but not before abortion rights advocates made it clear just how dangerous they believe the indictment to be.

READ: 7 days inside an anti-abortion summer camp training the next generation of activists

“Marshae Jones is being charged with manslaughter for being pregnant and getting shot while engaging in an altercation with a person who had a gun,” Amanda Reyes, executive director of the abortion fund Yellowhammer Fund, told AL.com in a statement. “Tomorrow, it will be another black woman, maybe for having a drink while pregnant. And after that, another, for not obtaining adequate prenatal care.”

Mary Ziegler, a professor at Florida State University College of Law, told VICE News in May that “fetal personhood” language threatens to rewrite vast swaths of U.S. law.

“Fetal personhood is kind of an infinitely complicated topic with potentially infinite unintended consequences, because once you recognize a fetus as a person, they could have rights in all kinds of contexts,” Ziegler said. “So you would have to work out what it meant for everything from inheritance law to tax law to civil liabilities rules to criminal law.”

Cover: Protesters for women's rights hold a rally on the Alabama Capitol steps to protest a law passed last week making abortion a felony in nearly all cases with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)