16 May 2019

Alabama governor signs near-total abortion ban into law

12:13 pm on 16 May 2019

Alabama's Republican governor has signed the most stringent abortion legislation in the US, making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signing a bill that virtually outlaws abortion in the state.

Alabama governor Kay Ivey signing a bill that virtually outlaws abortion in the state. Photo: AP / Alabama Governors Office

"To the bill's many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians' deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God," governor Kay Ivey said in a statement.

The bill's sponsors want to give conservatives on the US Supreme Court a chance to gut abortion rights nationwide, but Democrats and abortion rights advocates criticized the bill as a slap in the face to women voters.

"It just completely disregards women and the value of women and their voice. We have once again silenced women on a very personal issue," Birmingham Democrat senator Linda Coleman-Madison said.

She said she hoped the measure woke a "sleeping giant" of women voters in the state.

But Republican pollster Chris Kratzer noted that there is no congressional district and likely no legislative district with enough swing voters to put Republicans at serious risk in the state.

"The people who are outraged about this are not the people who are electing these guys, generally speaking, especially when we're talking about the primary," he said.

Margeaux Hartline, dressed as a handmaid, protests against the ban.

Margeaux Hartline, dressed as a handmaid, protests against the ban. Photo: AP

Mr Kratzer said there were not enough potential swing voters and disenchanted Republicans to make the issue any kind of advantage for the lone Democrat elected to statewide office, Doug Jones, who scored a surprise win in a 2017 special election.

Mr Jones upset Republican Roy Moore in part on the strength of GOP-leaning college graduates abandoning the controversial Moore. But Mr Kratzer said that was more about Mr Moore's long history of flouting federal courts as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and accusations that Mr Moore sexually harassed teens when he was in his 30s - not Moore's hardline stance on abortion.

The legislation Alabama senators passed Tuesday would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by 10 to 99 years or life in prison for the provider. The only exception would be when the woman's health is at serious risk. Women seeking or undergoing abortions would not be punished.

Terri Collins, the bill's sponsor, said she believed the measure reflected the beliefs of the majority of the state electorate.

"I've heard from lots of women in the state who are extremely pro-life, and they're very supportive," Ms Collins said.

Ms Ivey acknowledge the measure might be unenforceable in the short term. The law is set to go into effect six months after being signed, but supporters expect it to be blocked by lower courts as they fight toward the Supreme Court.

"The sponsors of this bill believe that it is time, once again, for the US Supreme Court to revisit this important matter, and they believe this act may bring about the best opportunity for this to occur," Ms Ivey said.

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.

Abortion rights advocates vowed swift legal action.

"We vowed to fight this dangerous abortion ban every step of the way and we meant what we said. We haven't lost a case in Alabama yet and we don't plan to start now. We will see Governor Ivey in court," said Staci Fox, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Southeast.

One mile from the Alabama Statehouse - down the street from the Governor's Mansion - sits Montgomery's only abortion clinic, one of three performing abortions in the state. Because of its location, the clinic sees a stream of patients from Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle because other clinics have closed.

Clinic staff on Wednesday fielded calls from patients, and potential patients, wrongly worried that abortion was now illegal in the state. They were assured abortion remained legal in the state.

"It's been a lot of fear. A lot of people who are afraid they can't get their procedure," clinic employee Kari Crowe said.

"Abortion is OK!" read a banner paid for by abortion rights advocates that a plane carried as it circled the Alabama Capitol and Statehouse on Wednesday.

- AP

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