15 May 2019

Alabama Senate passes near-total ban on abortion

4:05 pm on 15 May 2019

The Republican-dominated Senate voted 25-6 for the bill, which if signed off by the Republican governor, will be the US's most stringent abortion law.

Alabama's Senate passed a near-total ban on abortion, sending what would be the nation's most stringent abortion law to the state's Republican governor.

Sen. Clyde Chambliss speaks as debate on the near-total ban on abortion bill, is held in the senate chamber in the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery. 15.5.19

Senator Clyde Chambliss speaks as debate on the near-total ban on abortion bill, is held in the senate chamber in the Alabama Statehouse. Photo: AP

The Republican-dominated Senate 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.

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 the 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."

Republican Terri Collins, the bill's sponsor, said she expects Governor Kay Ivey to sign the bill into law. Ivey has not publicly commented on what she'll do.

Supporters said the bill is designed to conflict with the US Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationally, because they hope to spark 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?" Collins said of the bill after approval.

The bill's sponsor and other supporters had argued that exemptions would weaken their hope of creating a vehicle to challenge Roe. Collins said the Alabama law isn't meant to be a long-term measure and lawmakers could add a rape exemption if states regain 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 Sen. 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, criticized the ban as a mixture of political grandstanding, an attempt to control women and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

If signed into law by Governor Ivey, the bill would take effect in six months.