In an unprecedented move, an Alabama judge is allowing a man to sue a clinic because his ex-girlfriend terminated her pregnancy without his consent. The incident took place in February 2017, when he was 19 and she was 16, The Independent reports. (The age of consent in Alabama is 16.) At the time she terminated the pregnancy, she was six weeks along, making the embryo about the size of a sweet pea. Now, for the first time in United States history, a probate court has recognized an aborted fetus as a person with rights.
In court documents filed on March 6 by Ryan Magers, he claims that he begged his ex-girlfriend to carry the pregnancy to term and give birth. She refused and opted to terminate the pregnancy by taking the so-called "abortion pill," which is actually two pills, containing mifepristone and misoprostol. The wrongful death lawsuit names both the Alabama Women's Center and the pharmaceutical company that made the medication.
In the filings, the fetus is referred to as "Baby Roe," a reference to Roe v. Wade, in which the US Supreme Court rejected the notion that a fetus is a person. But despite the ruling, three states have put "personhood" laws to a vote. Voters in Colorado and Mississippi rejected the measure, but voters in Alabama did not.
"I'm here for the men who actually want to have their baby," Mager explained to ABC 31. "I just tried to plead with her and plead with her and just talk to her about it and see what I could do, but in the end, there was nothing I could do to change her mind... I believe every child from conception is a baby and deserves to live."
"Ryan was all about family," Mager's lawyer, J. Brent Helms, told Refinery 29. "He took on extra jobs to be able to pay for the birth of Baby Roe. He doesn't know why she didn’t want to go through with the pregnancy."
Hannah Ford, a spokesperson for the anti-abortion group Personhood Alabama who is assisting with the lawsuit, issued a statement claiming Baby Roe "was cruelly robbed of life and silenced before entering the world or being able to personally voice complaint in court."
The case has alarmed reproductive rights groups, who are concerned the "personhood" movement might spread. On Twitter, Ilyse Hogue, the president of Naral Pro-Choice America, called the case "very scary" because it "asserts woman's rights third in line," behind the man who impregnates her and the dead fetus. Salon writer Amanda Marcotte agreed, saying any man who "vetoes" an abortion is "not fit to be a father or a partner. Any such man is by definition, an abuser."
Those concerns are shared by Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports reproductive rights. "This man was unable to force his girlfriend to continue a pregnancy and so he’s taking an extreme action to exert control," she told Refinery 29. And speaking with The Independent, she explained, "[This case] has the potential to be used in other states, and it’s part of abortion opponents being emboldened... and conservatives turning over every rock to see how they can ban abortion."
Mager's lawyer said the case could start a legal precedent that leads to the end of abortion in Alabama. However, law professors like Lucinda Finley from the University of Buffalo aren't so sure. She told The Cut that a wrongful death must be a "legally wrongful act in order to have a successful claim."
"In this case, the clinic that provided an abortion that the woman wanted and consented to did not perform any wrongful act," she said. "A third party who injures a pregnant woman and thereby ends her wanted pregnancy against her will is a vastly different situation than a woman who decides to end her own pregnancy."