Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP

Alabama Senate heads toward vote on abortion ban measure

May 14, 2019 - 7:46 pm

Alabama lawmakers headed to a Tuesday night vote on bill to outlaw almost all abortions in the state, the latest conservative state to try and enact new restrictions on abortion access.

The bill before the GOP-dominated Alabama Senate would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison. The only exception would be when the woman's health is at serious risk.

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 a court case that might prompt the justices to revisit abortion rights.

"The question for me — for us — is: When is a person a person?" Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss said as debate began on the proposed ban.

Democrats, who hold eight seats in the 35-member Senate, alternately criticizing the proposed abortion ban as 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 Sen. Vivian Davis Figures said. "It should be that women's choice."

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.

"Our bill says that baby in the womb is a person," said Republican Rep. Terri Collins, the bill's sponsor, said in an interview.

Democrats unsuccessfully tried to put several amendments on the bill, including one that would require lawmakers to pay the state's legal fees in the expected lawsuit.

Although the bill passed the House of Representatives 74-3, some GOP state senators have expressed discomfort that the bill doesn't include an exception for rape.

"Overwhelmingly, the people out on the street I'm talking to, they are hesitant to put into law no exceptions," Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said, recounting conversations with constituents.

An attempt to add an exemption for rape is expected during the debate Tuesday night.

Other Republicans argued exemptions would weaken their hope of creating a vehicle to challenge Roe.

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, who will preside over the vote and any attempt to amend the bill, posted a video on social media ahead of the debate saying "abortion is murder" and opposing amendments.

The bill likens abortion to history's greatest atrocities, including the Holocaust.

The debate became emotional at times as Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton pointed out and named rape victims watching the debate from the Senate viewing gallery.

Singleton said doctors who perform abortions could serve more prison time, under the proposed ban, than the women's rapists.

"This is nothing but a political game and women are the pawns," Staci Fox, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Southeast. "Let's be honest, banning abortion does not stop abortion. It stops safe and legal abortion."

A crowd of about 50 people held a rally outside the Alabama Statehouse, chanting, "Whose choice? Our choice."

Several women dressed as characters from the "The Handmaid's Tale," which depicts a dystopian future where fertile women are forced to breed.

Critics have promised a swift lawsuit. Randall Marshall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said a complaint is being drafted to challenge the ban if enacted.

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has not publically said whether she will sign the bill if it's approved by lawmakers.

"As this legislation is still making its way through the legislative process, the governor intends to withhold comment until it makes its way to her desk for signature," deputy press secretary Lori Jhons wrote in an email.

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