Alabama abortion ban ignites legal, political battles

Published 7:46 am Thursday, May 16, 2019

MONTGOMERY, Ala.  — Alabama lawmakers’ vote to outlaw almost all abortions in the state has ignited legal and political battles as conservatives aim to challenge the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The legislation that would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with almost no exceptions, a felony is now in the hands of the governor, who will decide whether to sign it into law. Even supporters anticipate that, if enacted, courts would block the legislation from taking effect as abortion opponents play a long-game legal strategy to try to give states control over abortion access.

On Wednesday morning, abortion rights advocates urged Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to reject the bill and vowed swift legal action if it is enacted.

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“We are laser-focused on urging Gov. Kay Ivey to veto this dangerous bill. If she chooses not to, then we will take this to court and ensure that abortion remains safe and legal and accessible in the state of Alabama,” said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast.

In Alabama and other conservative states, anti-abortion politicians and activists emboldened by the addition of conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court hope to ignite legal fights and eventually overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, putting an end to the constitutional right to abortion.

Ivey has not announced if she will sign the bill approved Tuesday night but told reporters Wednesday that potential legal fees resulting from lawsuits “certainly cannot deter your efforts to protect the unborn.”

“Roe v. Wade has ended the lives of millions of children,” Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who shepherded the bill in the Alabama Senate, said in a statement. “While we cannot undo the damage that decades of legal precedence under Roe have caused, this bill has the opportunity to save the lives of millions of unborn children.”

Democrats criticized the bill as a mixture of political grandstanding and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Although the bill’s sponsor is a woman, they noted that the Senate Republican majority that approved the bill consists entirely of men.

“The state of Alabama ought to be ashamed of herself. You ought to be ashamed. Go look in the mirror,” Sen. Bobby Singleton said. “Women in this state didn’t deserve this. This is all about political grandstanding.”

The morning after the legislative vote, a plane circled the Alabama Capitol and Statehouse carrying a banner reading, “Abortion is OK!”

Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia recently have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. The Alabama bill goes further by seeking to ban abortion outright.

The bill would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by 10 to 99 years or life in prison for the abortion provider. The only exception would be when the woman’s health is at serious risk. Under the bill, women seeking or undergoing abortions wouldn’t be punished.

Alabama senators rejected an attempt to add an exception for rape and incest. The amendment was voted down 21-11, with four Republicans joining Democrats in seeking the amendment.

Supporters had argued that exceptions would weaken their hope of creating a vehicle to challenge Roe v. Wade. Bill sponsor Collins said the legislation isn’t meant to be a long-term measure— just a means to challenge Roe — and lawmakers could add a rape exception if states regain control of abortion access.

“It’s to address the issue that Roe. v. Wade was decided on: Is that baby in the womb a person?” Collins said.

Democrats opposed to the bill said the measure is too extreme even in a conservative-leaning state like Alabama and said they hope their GOP counterparts feel the “wrath” of women at the ballot box.

During debate, Singleton pointed out and named rape victims watching from the Senate viewing gallery. He said that under the ban, doctors who perform abortions could serve more prison time than the women’s rapists.