An overwhelming male Republican majority in the Alabama Senate has voted in favor of a near-blanket ban on abortion, making it a felony to terminate a pregnancy at any stage.
While doctors and providers found guilty of carrying out the procedure will face jail time of 10 to 99 years, patients will be exempt from any civil or criminal proceedings against them.
The bill only allows an exception in cases where the health of the unborn child’s mother is at serious risk or if the fetus is found to have a “lethal anomaly.”
However, the fear of criminal prosecution is likely to discourage doctors from performing abortions under any circumstances, regardless of the exemption.
“If the anti-abortion politicians leading our state of Alabama make the grave mistake of passing a bill that would criminalize those who provide abortion care, it would have a disastrous effect on the health and well-being of Alabamians,” Dr. Yashica Robinson, an obstetrician at the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives and a member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in a statement to ThinkProgress.
“Physicians will be unwilling to help patients in need, even when continuing pregnancy is detrimental to a patient’s health, or potentially fatal, out of fear of being scrutinized by the criminal justice system,” she added.
A Democrat-recommended amendment that would have allowed an exemption in rape- and incest-related pregnancies, was also rejected by the lawmakers on an 11-21 vote.
An emotional Bobby Singleton, the Democrat who introduced the bill, said that he would go home and tell his daughter that “the state of Alabama doesn’t care about you, baby.”
“You just said to my daughter, ‘You don’t matter. You don’t matter in the state of Alabama’,” he said.
The controversial ban, passed by a 25-6 majority on Tuesday night (May 14), was signed into law by Republican Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey the following day.
“Today, I signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, a bill that was approved by overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Legislature,” Ivey said in a statement.
“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.”
Since the new law does not become enforceable until six months after the signing, the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama (ACLU) have every intention of contesting it in court.
Worried that law has already taken effect, people have been calling up the Alabama Women’s Center – one of only three clinics in the state offering abortion services – wanting to know if the clinic was open and if they were still providing care, reports Vox.
In fact, the day the bill was passed, “one young lady was telling us about a dream that she had that she was going to wake up and get here to the clinic and we were going to tell her that we couldn’t take care of her,” Dr. Robinson told the news website.
ACLU spokesperson Rebecca Seung-Bickley has said that the union is working on drafting litigation that would seek a temporary federal injunction on the ruling to keep it from being implemented.
Citing a 2014 litigation that ACLU had filed against an Alabama law banning a common abortion procedure and won, Seung-Bickley said: “This will never go into effect, as long as ACLU is in litigation.”
Her confidence stems from the fact that even though the state had appealed against U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson’s ruling, the case is still waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court, five years on.
“It’s so extreme that it is unlikely to be picked by the Supreme Court,” said the ACLU spokesperson.
Speaking to CNN on Wednesday, Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel of state policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights said:
“There is nearly 50 years of precedent that says this law is unconstitutional. Regardless of what district judge hears this case, there is no argument that Alabama can make that this law is constitutional.”
Ever since Trump took over the Whitehouse in 2017, six states, including Kentucky, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, North Dakota, and Mississippi, have passed legislation prohibiting abortion in cases where a fetal heartbeat is detected, which usually happens about six weeks into a pregnancy.
However, CNN reports that its legal analyst Joan Biskupic says that none of the recent bans have seen the light of day, in so far as implementation is concerned.
“Pre-viability bans (bans on abortions prior to 24 weeks) like the Alabama ban … have never been enforced,” Smith told CNN.
“Some of them have been enacted by a state but none of them have been enforced,” she said, adding: “That’s because of the litigation that has stopped them from going into effect.”
Reactions against the ban came thick and fast on Twitter. Here are some of them.