ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Alabama's governor, Kay Ivey, has signed into law the most restrictive abortion legislation in the country. The law bans abortion in almost all cases. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. In a statement released after the signing, the governor acknowledged that this bill may force the Supreme Court to, quote, "revisit the landmark abortion ruling Roe vs. Wade." That goal is shared by our next guest.
Eric Johnston is the president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, and he wrote the bill. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
ERIC JOHNSTON: Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: The Supreme Court has held for more than 45 years that women have a constitutional right to access abortion in the U.S. As such, this law is currently unenforceable. So do you agree with Governor Ivey that the primary goal of this law is to get the Supreme Court to revisit Roe vs. Wade?
JOHNSTON: Yes, I agree with that in this way that we want to stop abortion of unborn children. And the only way we can do that is to go back and revisit the Roe decision. So this law is, in effect, a vehicle to do that. But the real purpose of this law is to save the lives of unborn children.
SHAPIRO: But it cannot, as of now, be put into practice. So that goal seems unachievable unless and until the Supreme Court overturns Roe.
JOHNSTON: That is correct. We expect it to be holdings of unconstitutionality in the trial court and in the appellate court. And then we are hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree to review the case at that point.
SHAPIRO: You know, the prominent televangelist Pat Robertson, who has been vocally opposed to abortion, believes this law in Alabama goes too far. Let's listen to part of what he said yesterday on his program, "The 700 Club."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE 700 CLUB")
PAT ROBERTSON: It's an extreme rule. And they want to challenge Roe vs. Wade. But my humble view is that this is not the case we want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one will lose.
SHAPIRO: How do you respond to that concern that the state of Alabama is overplaying its hand here?
JOHNSTON: Well, no, I don't think so. And I know that Pat Robertson is a lawyer and a preacher and so forth and been around a long time. But I think he's very wrong on that. I think this bill offers probably the cleanest presentation of a challenge to Roe that you could come up with because it's just very simple in its definition of what an unborn child is and in the application of the law merely saying that it's a crime to perform an abortion.
SHAPIRO: You're saying because it's black and white it's a better case for the Supreme Court to take, rather than something more incremental.
JOHNSTON: Well, you know, incrementally - you can't address the person who had issue on an incremental basis. If you face head-on what Roe means, you just have to have a very simple bill or a simple statement of law to do that.
SHAPIRO: The debate over this law broke down over whether there should be an exception for rape and incest. And the final version does not include those exceptions. Which means a man who rapes and impregnates a woman faces a penalty that could, in some cases, be less severe than the doctor who ends the pregnancy at the woman's request. Do you think that disparity is appropriate?
JOHNSTON: Yes. If we are saying that the unborn child is a person, then he, like you and I who are walking around people, if we are killed, it's murder. And so we treat it the same way. We're consistent that the penalty for rape is not as much because you're not killing a person. But if the U.S. Supreme Court determines Roe was incorrect in that the unborn child is a person, then that person should be entitled to all the protection of law.
And so when you take this life, you pay the penalty for it. That also, with that kind of a penalty, will stop there from being the back alley abortions, as they say, because the deterrent will be significant.
SHAPIRO: This law does not punish women who choose to have an abortion. If you believe that personhood begins at conception and that abortion is murder, would you like to see women who choose to end a pregnancy be punished for that?
JOHNSTON: No. It's been our policy since the very beginning that, when we deal with the abortion issue, we don't penalize the woman. She is already in a very bad situation, and we want to help her through that situation. And by putting penalties on it, it just adds to that. So no, we've never put penalties on women in the abortion issue.
SHAPIRO: Well, I know you haven't, but if in your view abortion is murder, why not?
JOHNSTON: Well, you could say, well, she's complicit in the murder. Well, you know, that is something that we have to deal with. But that is a choice that we made because she is in the middle of the process and we don't want to make her an accomplice.
SHAPIRO: Is that just a political choice?
JOHNSTON: No. I think that's the real choice that we want as we try to reach out to women. Our goal is not just to save the lives of the babies but to help women. Most of the laws we've done, the primary goal was the health care of the women because of the substandard care they received in abortion clinics.
SHAPIRO: And yet this law does not allow abortion when a woman's health is in danger, only when a woman's life is in danger. In that sense, it does seem to stop short of protecting a woman's health.
JOHNSTON: Well, it has the exception for life. It has the exception for impairment of a major bodily function physically. It also has a suicide exception. And it has an emergency exception.
SHAPIRO: Eric Johnston, president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, who wrote the language of Alabama's abortion ban. Thank you for joining us today.
JOHNSTON: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.