Alabama Taxpayers Forced to Pay for State-Mandated, Ideological Materials on Abortion

Yesterday, a federal judge confirmed that the State of Alabama must pay for the production and distribution of materials that are mandated under the state's abortion waiting period law. The judge had previously ruled the costs provision unconstitutional, but the State asked him to reconsider that ruling.

Yesterday's decision, which is estimated to cost Alabama taxpayers as much as $50,000 a year, was announced as the Alabama Department of Public Health revealed its plans for major cutbacks in the wake of the state's budget crisis. The Department of Public Health is now responsible for paying for the costs of the abortion materials.

"The people of Alabama should be outraged that their government is willing to sacrifice women's health and to make them foot the bill for the damage," said Linda Rosenthal, Staff Attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights. "The Alabama government's bias against abortion is so strong that, even in a time of severe budget crisis, they are willing to compromise the state's fiscal well-being to further their own political agenda."

The State of Alabama had attempted to force doctors to pay $4 per booklet and $50 for each video required by the Woman's Right to Know Act. In a strongly worded opinion, Chief Judge M. Harold Albritton of the Middle District of Alabama ruled that the State of Alabama was violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by forcing abortion providers to pay for materials that they are opposed to distributing. In ruling the scheme unconstitutional for the second time, Judge Albritton wrote, "the court concludes that the State's interest in requiring abortion providers to pay for its informational materials cannot justify the significant infringement on the Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights."

The state-mandated materials contain ideological and biased information on abortion and pregnancy. The materials have been enjoined since September 2002 when Judge Albritton granted in part the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction. Under the abortion waiting period law, abortion providers would be required to give the materials to patients 24 hours before performing an abortion.

The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the provision on behalf of three Alabama health clinics. Representing Plaintiffs in the case Summit Medical Center of AL, et al. v. Bob Riley, et al. are Linda Rosenthal of the Center for Reproductive Rights, as well as Wayne Sabel, of Sabel & Sabel in Montgomery, Alabama, and David Gespass, of Gespass & Johnson in Birmingham, Alabama.