Alabama senate approves a near total ban on abortion

Alabama’s state Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that would outlaw nearly all abortions, creating exceptions only to safeguard the health of the mother, as part of a multi-state effort to have the U.S. Supreme Court reconsider a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

The bill was previously approved by the Alabama House of Representatives and will now go to Republican Gov.Kay Ivey, who has withheld comment on whether she would sign it but generally is a strong opponent of abortion.

The law would take effect six months after being signed by the governor, but is certain to face legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups who have vowed to sue.

Legislation to restrict abortion rights has been introduced in 16 states this year, four of whose governors have signed bills banning abortion if an embryonic heartbeat can be detected.

Rep. Terri Collins answers questions during debate on the abortion ban bill at the Alabama State House on April 30. Collins sponsored the bill, with hopes it eventually ends up in front of the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court. (Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser/AP)

The Alabama bill goes further, banning abortions at any time. People who perform abortions would be subject to a felony, punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison, although a woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable.

“Our bill says that baby in the womb is a person,” said Republican Rep. Terri Collins, the bill’s sponsor.

Supporters said the bill is intentionally designed to conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationally, because they hope to spark court cases that might prompt the justices to revisit abortion rights.

“Hopefully, it takes it all the way to the Supreme Court to overturn,” Collins told The Associated Press last month.

Emboldened by conservative justices who have joined the Supreme Court, abortion opponents in several states are seeking to challenge abortion access. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.

Republicans call themselves fiscally conservative, but this is going to cost the state a lot of money to defend in court.– Bobby Singleton, Democratic senator

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Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton said the Alabama bill “criminalizes doctors” and is an attempt by men “to tell women what to do with their bodies.” He said the legal fight will cost money that the state could spend on other needs.

“Republicans call themselves fiscally conservative, but this is going to cost the state a lot of money to defend in court,” Singleton said.

Less than two kilometres from the Alabama Statehouse — down the street from the governor’s mansion — sits Montgomery’s only abortion clinic. Because of its location, the clinic sees a stream of patients from Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle because other clinics have closed.

Clinic escorts wearing rainbow-coloured vests use oversized blue umbrellas to shield patients from a sidewalk protester who shouts at women entering and exiting the clinic.

Kari Crowe, a clinic escort, has demonstrated at the Statehouse dressed as a character from the The Handmaid’s Tale, a TV series that depicts a dystopian future where women are forced to breed.

“It’s horrifying my kids wouldn’t have the right or the ability to make choices for themselves if it ever becomes necessary,” Crowe said.

Doug Jones, who represents Alabama on Capitol Hill, said in a social media post on Tuesday the bill is “not on the right side of the law” or on the right side of history.