The Alabama Senate passed a bill Tuesday evening to ban nearly all abortions. The state House had already overwhelmingly approved the legislation. It’s part of a broader anti-abortion strategy to prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the right to abortion.
It would be one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the United States. The bill would make it a crime for doctors to perform abortions at any stage of a pregnancy, unless a woman’s life is threatened or in case of a lethal fetal anomaly.
The vote was 25-6, with one abstention.
Doctors in the state would face felony jail time up to 99 years if convicted. But a woman would not be held criminally liable for having an abortion.
The only exceptions are for a serious health risk to the pregnant woman or a lethal anomaly of the fetus. There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, and that was a sticking point when the Alabama Senate first tried to debate the measure last Thursday. The Republican-majority chamber adjourned in dramatic fashion when leaders tried to strip a committee amendment that would have added an exception for cases of rape or incest.
Sponsors insist they want to limit exceptions because the bill is designed to push the idea that a fetus is a person with rights, in a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to abortion.
“Human life has rights, and when someone takes those rights, that’s when we as government have to step in,” said Republican Clyde Chambliss, the Senate sponsor of the abortion ban.
The amendment has divided Republicans. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, who presides over the Senate, posted on Twitter that his position is simple — “Abortion is murder.” But other Senate leaders have insisted that there be exceptions for rape and incest.
— Will Ainsworth (@willainsworthAL) May 13, 2019
Democrats didn’t have the votes to stop the bill but tried to slow down proceedings during the debate.
Democratic Sen. Vivian Davis Figures questioned why supporters would not want victims of rape or incest to have an exception for a horrific act.
“To take that choice away from that person who had such a traumatic act committed against them, to be left with the residue of that person if you will, to have to bring that child into this world and be reminded of it every single day,” Figures said.
The ACLU of Alabama is on record saying it will sue if the bill becomes law. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has not said whether she will sign it, and said she was waiting for a final version of the bill. She is considered a strong opponent of abortion.
Chipping away at abortion rights
In recent years, conservative states have passed laws that have chipped away at the right to abortion with stricter regulations, including time limits, waiting periods and medical requirements on doctors and clinics. This year state lawmakers are going even further now that there’s a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The strategy here is that we will win,” says Alabama Pro-Life Coalition President Eric Johnston, who helped craft the Alabama abortion ban.
“There are a lot of factors and the main one is two new judges that may give the ability to have Roe reviewed,” Johnston said. “And Justice Ginsburg — no one knows about her health.”
So states are pushing the envelope. Several, including Alabama’s neighbors Georgia and Mississippi, have passed laws that prohibit abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. But the drafters of the Alabama bill think by having no threshold other than if a woman is pregnant, their law might be the one ripe for Supreme Court review.