Alabama’s Republican-dominated state Senate has passed a bill to ban nearly all abortions, including in cases of rape or incest, as part of a multi-state effort to have the United States Supreme Court reconsider a woman’s constitutional right to the procedure.
Senators on Tuesday voted 25-6 for the bill that would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up 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.
The Senate also rejected an attempt to add an exception for rape and incest. The amendment was voted down 21-11, with four Republicans joining Democrats seeking the amendment.
“You don’t care anything about babies having babies in this state, being raped and incest,” Democratic Senator Bobby Singleton said after the amendment’s defeat. “You just aborted the state of Alabama with your rhetoric with this bill.”
The country’s strictest abortion bill was previously approved by the Alabama House of Representatives and will now go to Republican Governor Kay Ivey, who has withheld comment on whether she would sign but is generally a strong opponent of abortion.
The law would take effect six months after being signed by the governor, but is certain to face a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups which have vowed to sue.
“Opponents to the law have been very vociferous in their outcry, saying that this would punish rape victims and it would push women to seek abortions underground in unsafe procedures,” Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro, reporting from Washington, DC, said.
Supporters said the bill is designed to conflict with the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalising abortion nationally because they hope to prompt a court case that might prompt the justices to revisit abortion rights.
“It’s to address the issue that Roe v Wade was decided on. Is that baby in the womb a person?” Republican Representative Terri Collins, the bill’s sponsor, said after the approval of the measures.
Supporters had argued that exemptions would weaken their hope of creating a vehicle to challenge Roe.
Collins said the Alabama law was not meant to be a long-term measure and legislators could add a rape exemption if states regained control of abortion access.
“Roe v Wade has ended the lives of millions of children. 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,” Republican Senator Clyde Chambliss said in a statement after the bill’s passage.
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.
The Alabama bill goes further by seeking to outlaw abortion outright. There would be no punishment for the woman receiving the abortion, only for the abortion provider. The text of the bill likens abortion to history’s greatest atrocities, including the Holocaust.
Democrats, who hold eight seats in the 35-member Senate, criticised the ban as a mixture of political grandstanding, an attempt to control women and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“You don’t have to provide for that child. You don’t have to do anything for that child, yet you want to make that decision for that woman,” Democratic Senator Vivian Davis Figures said. “It should be that woman’s choice.”
During the debate, Senator 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.
In a statement, Staci Fox, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said: “Today is a dark day for women in Alabama and across this country.”
The statement added: “Alabama politicians will forever live in infamy for this vote and we will make sure that every woman knows who to hold accountable.”
Outside the Statehouse, a crowd of about 50 people held a rally, chanting, “Whose choice? Our choice.”
Several women dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale, which depicts a dystopian future where fertile women are forced to breed.