The Alabama Senate on Tuesday approved the nation’s toughest anti-abortion ban, hoping the legislation will spark a legal challenge leading to the demise of Roe v. Wade.
The legislation is even stricter than the wave of so-called heartbeat bills that have recently been passed by Republicans in Georgia and other conservative states, who believe the Supreme Court's new conservative majority is poised to chip away at, or perhaps obliterate, abortion rights. The Alabama bill would outlaw virtually all abortions in the state, and doctors could face up to 99 years in prison — basically a life sentence — for performing an abortion.
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"The Supreme Court is not a body that makes a ruling forever,” said state Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who acknowledged the purpose of the legislation is to overturn longstanding precedent.
The state Senate approved the bill, 25-6, with one abstention, after nearly five hours of debate, during which Democrats did most of the talking. Just days earlier, the state Senate had scrapped a vote amid a heated floor debate over GOP efforts to strip from the bill exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Democrat Bobby Singleton proposed an amendment Tuesday that would have reinserted those protections. Singleton brought three rape victims to the chamber, and pointed out that under the proposed law, the doctor who performs an abortion can spend more time in prison than the rapist.
“Something is wrong with that,“ he said.
But his amendment failed 21-11. Four Republicans joined the chamber’s seven Democrats.
Several other Democrat-sponsored amendments failed, meaning the bill does not need to go back to the House, which passed an identical version of the legislation last month.
Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who has declined comment on the legislation, is expected to sign it.
Abortion rights groups said they will immediately mount a legal challenge to the measure, contending it violates the landmark 1973 Roe ruling guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion until a fetus is viable.
“Politicians in Alabama just passed the most extreme and dangerous policy since Roe v. Wade,“ said Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “Doctors and public health leaders agree: the cost will be women’s lives. … Politicians who say they value life should advocate for policies to solve the public health crises that are killing women, not dismantle what little access to health care Alabamians have left.“
Other state bans that would outlaw abortion very early in pregnancy have been blocked by the courts, but that hasn’t deterred red states emboldened by the Supreme Court’s rightward shift. Four states this year, including Georgia last week, approved abortion bans once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually about the sixth week of pregnancy. That’s before many women know they are pregnant.
Some conservatives have pushed for these strict abortion bans, believing that the addition of two Trump appointees to the Supreme Court — as well as dozens of federal judges in lower courts — offer the best chance in a generation to limit abortion. Others have supported more incremental efforts to limit abortion methods or access to the procedure, believing they’re more likely to withstand legal challenges.
The newly configured Supreme Court, however, has so far passed on two abortion-related cases since Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the bench in October. It’s still deciding whether to take up a challenge to a 2016 Indiana law — signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence — banning abortion based on a fetus’ race, disability or gender.
Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, a Republican, last week said the state’s abortion legislation would be a direct challenge to Roe.
“Now that President Donald Trump has supercharged the effort to remake the federal court system by appointing conservative jurists who will strictly interpret the Constitution, I feel confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe and finally correct its 46-year-old mistake,” Ainsworth said in a statement.
The Alabama bill includes exceptions for pregnancies that pose a health risk to the mother, but not for rape and incest. Those have typically been included in other legislation limiting abortion.
The Senate’s judiciary committee originally amended the legislation to allow for rape and incest exceptions, but the language was stripped out on the Senate floor through a voice vote, infuriating Democrats who wanted to put Republicans on the record.
Democrats attempted to add a provision that expands the state’s Medicaid program, and make it a Class A felony for a man to receive a vasectomy. Both those amendments failed.
Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, a Democrat, argued that the state does nothing to provide for babies that are born. The state does not help pay for day care. The foster care system is inadequate, she said. Other Democrats pointed out that the children’s health insurance program remains underfunded.
“This bill isn‘t about life or pro-life,” she said. “This bill is about control. ... The sin to me is bringing a child into this world and not taking care of it; the sin to me is this state does not provide adequate care for this child. We want to bring them here but we don‘t want to take care of them.”