AG’s abortion decision was right for state

Published 11:58 pm Wednesday, July 6, 2016

You’ve probably heard the song written 40 years ago by Don Schlitz, and taken to the top of the country music charts (and the pop Top 20) by Kenny Rogers two years later. It’s the one where a wise old hand advises a fellow train passenger that there are times when it’s prudent to leave one’s cards on the table and walk away — in other words, make a strategic retreat.

We don’t know if Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has “The Gambler” in his CD rack or on his portable player of choice. However, Strange followed that path after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week in a major case on abortion, and we think folding was the right thing to do for the state.

The court struck down parts of a Texas law that required abortion clinics there to meet the same standards as surgery centers, and doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

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The margin was 5-3, quite significant given the fact that the court is down a justice following the death of Antonin Scalia and the refusal of Senate Republicans to consider Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice as a replacement.

The court held that the Texas restrictions placed “a substantial obstacle,” according to Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion, without any accompanying medical benefits, to a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion that was granted in 1973 in Roe v. Wade and reasserted in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Texas officials insisted the law was intended to protect women’s health. Statistics released last week show that it achieved its more likely goal, reducing the number of abortions in the state.

Alabama passed a similar law in 2013, also requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. A federal court in 2014 tossed out that law using the same rationale as the Supreme Court in the Texas case — that it would place an unfair burden on the right to abortion and result in most clinics in the state closing.

Strange’s office was preparing to challenge that ruling, but he announced within hours of the Texas decision that he was standing down.

“While I disagree with the high court’s decision, there is no good faith argument that Alabama’s law remains constitutional in the light of the Supreme Court ruling,” he said.

That’s a mature and realistic course, and we salute the attorney general for taking it. There is no sense in wasting his time and the state’s money playing Lord Cardigan leading the Light Brigade against the Russians at Balaclava.

We’re sure others — advocates of the legislation — would’ve taken up that sword, as Alabamians cheered them on. A 2014 survey by the Public Religious Research Institute found 56 percent or people here believe abortion should be illegal in most or all cases.

We don’t expect that number to change, or the passions on this issue to ebb. We also see little chance of the court retreating from settled constitutional law on abortion.

In fact, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a concurring opinion pretty much levied a “bring it on” to states and legislators who “strew impediments” to abortion, promising that none will “survive judicial inspection.”

Don’t be surprised if they keep trying.