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Protesters for and against abortion rights huddle under umbrellas as they rally in groups outside while the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the abortion case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, in Washington, U.S. March 20, 2018. © 2018 Reuters

President Donald Trump has said he plans to announce his nominee for the US Supreme Court by July 9, not two weeks after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. This will be the second nominee Trump will put forward. During his campaign, he promised that if he were able to change the composition of the court, it would “automatically” lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the seminal case recognizing the constitutional right to abortion.

Following Kennedy’s announcement, Trump acknowledged again that after a new justice is seated, a woman’s right to access an abortion could fall to states to determine. In many states, that would mean abortion would become a criminal act. Dozens of states could criminalize abortion in short order should Roe fall – four states already have “trigger laws” on the books that automatically outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned, and dozens of others have laws that put access to abortion at “high risk.”

Kennedy’s imminent retirement ramps up the significance of what, until two weeks ago, had been a largely symbolic ballot initiative in Alabama. In November, voters will decide on a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at precluding arguments for access to abortion under the state constitution, should the Supreme Court ever send the question of abortion back to the states. The amendment would protect “the rights of the unborn child in all manners and measures lawful and appropriate,” and would pave the way to restricting abortion if the Supreme Court does send the question back to states.

Alabama is a state that uses jail to punish pregnant women for possible drug use, has high rates of preventable gynecological cancer deaths, and at least once, used the courts to stop a woman from having an abortion. Given the uncertain fate of Roe, the constitutional change would pose a dire risk to women.

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