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Alabama Lawmakers Vote to Effectively Ban Abortion in the State
Demonstrators dressed as handmaids protested at the Alabama State House in April against the proposed abortion ban.CreditMickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser, via Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate approved a measure on Tuesday that would outlaw almost all abortions in the state, setting up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the case that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy.
The legislation bans abortions at every stage of pregnancy and criminalizes the procedure for doctors, who could be charged with felonies and face up to 99 years in prison. It includes an exception for cases when the mother’s life is at serious risk, but not for cases of rape or incest — a subject of fierce debate among lawmakers in recent days.
The House approved the measure — the most far-reaching effort in the nation this year to curb abortion rights — last month. It now moves to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican. Although the governor has not publicly committed to signing the legislation, many Republican lawmakers expect her support.
In an email on Tuesday night, a spokeswoman for the governor, Lori Davis Jhons, said Ms. Ivey would “withhold comment until she has had a chance to thoroughly review the final version of the bill that passed.”
Opponents have vowed to challenge the measure in federal court if it becomes law. Even the legislation’s supporters expect that a lower court will block the measure. But it was drafted with exactly that in mind. The ban’s architects, reflecting the rising confidence of abortion critics nationwide after the appointment of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, hope that the justices will use the case to reconsider the central holding in Roe and allow the Alabama measure to take effect.
“Until now, there was no prospect of reversing Roe,” said Eric Johnston, who founded the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition and serves as its president, and has spent more than 30 years trying to ban abortion.
[Several states have moved to curtail abortion but Alabama’s measure goes farther.]
Mr. Johnston, who drafted the Alabama bill and sees himself as a purist on the abortion issue, said he did not support the spate of restrictive legislation that other states have enacted in recent months, including so-called fetal heartbeat bills. These bills essentially ban abortions starting at six weeks after conception, a time when many women do not yet know they are pregnant.
Given the current leanings of the Supreme Court, Mr. Johnston said, making such a measure, which does not directly challenge Roe, the subject of the court’s next major abortion case would be a wasted opportunity.
“Why not go all the way?” he asked.
The Senate gallery was full before the debate started on Tuesday afternoon. A long line of people waited to take seats when people left. Many in the audience were abortion rights activists, and at times they laughed when male lawmakers spoke about pregnancy and other female health issues.
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Senator Rodger Smitherman, a Democrat, told colleagues that during his wife’s pregnancy with their son, doctors had told him it was unlikely that the child would be born alive. Mr. Smitherman said that he and his wife had decided to have the child anyway, and that his son had been born with significant health problems. “The significance,” he said, “is I had the choice.”
Democrats and abortion-rights advocates say that the Alabama measure would drive the procedure underground, endangering the lives of women and girls and disproportionately affecting poor and minority Alabamians.
“We want abortions to be safe, and we want them to be few, but it should be legal, because there will be abortions,” said Senator Linda Coleman-Madison, a Democrat and one of the four women in the 35-member Senate.
Eric Johnston, the president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, is one of the architects of a measure that would outlaw most abortions in the state.CreditBob Miller for The New York Times