Rep. Merika Coleman speaks during a rally against a ban on nearly all abortions outside of the Alabama State House in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, May 14, 2019. The legislation would make performing an abortion a felony at any stage of pregnancy with almost no exceptions. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
By Kim Chandler and Blake Paterson
MONTGOMERY, Ala.— Alabama’s Republican governor has signed the nation’s strictest abortion ban into law, making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases, punishable by up to life in prison, and with no exceptions for rape and incest.
Gov. Kay Ivey said the law she signed Wednesday is a testament to the belief that “every life is a sacred gift from God.”
Democrats and abortion rights advocates call it a slap in the face to women.
The law faces certain legal challenges on a journey to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Republicans hope President Donald Trump’s appointees will reverse Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortion nationwide.
Evangelist Pat Robertson is among those who think it’s a mistake, calling the Alabama law too “extreme” and not the best vehicle for overturning the precedent set by the Supreme Court in 1973. “I think this one will lose,” he said on his television show Wednesday, but “God bless them, they are trying to do something.”
Ivey acknowledged in her signing statement that the law was crafted specifically to give the Supreme Court’s conservative majority a chance to gut abortion rights nationwide. The abortion ban would go into effect in six months if it isn’t blocked by legal challenges .
“It just completely disregards women and the value of women and their voice. We have once again silenced women on a very personal issue,” said Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, a Birmingham Democrat.
Coleman-Madison said she hopes the measure awakens 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 in Alabama with enough swing voters to put Republicans at serious risk.
“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.
Kratzer also argued that there aren’t enough potential swing voters and disenchanted Republicans to make the issue any kind of advantage for the lone Democrat elected to statewide office, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, who scored a surprise win in a 2017 special election.
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. There is no exception for pregnancies resulting for rape and incest.
The only exception would be when the woman’s health is at serious risk. Women seeking or undergoing abortions wouldn’t be punished.
The law’s sponsor, Rep. Terri Collins, said she believes a majority of Alabamians support it: 59% of state voters in November agreed to write anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution, saying the state recognizes the rights of the “unborn.”
“It’s to address the issue that Roe. v. Wade was decided on. Is that baby in the womb a person?” Collins said.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia recently approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. Missouri’s Republican-led Senate voted early Thursday to ban abortions at eight weeks, with no rape or incest exceptions. Louisiana lawmakers have been speeding toward passing a six-week ban.
The Alabama bill goes further by seeking to ban abortion outright, and abortion rights advocates vowed swift legal action.
“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 CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast.
Just down the street from the Governor’s Mansion sits Montgomery’s only abortion clinic, one of three performing abortions in the state. Clinic staff fielded calls on Wednesday from patients and potential patients, assuring them that abortion remains legal, for now.
Dr. Yashica Robinson, who provides abortions in Huntsville, said her clinic similarly fielded calls from frightened patients.
“This is a really sad day for women in Alabama and all across the nation,” she said. “It’s like we have just taken three steps backwards as far as women’s rights and being able to make decisions that are best for them and best for their families.”
But Robinson said the bill is also having a galvanizing effect. With phone lines jammed, she said messages came streaming across their fax machine.
“We had letters coming across the fax just asking what they can do to help and telling us they are sending us their love and support our way,” Robinson said.