Alabama passes nation’s strictest abortion law, with no exceptions for rape or incest
MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Alabama lawmakers voted Tuesday to ban virtually all abortions in the state — including for victims of rape and incest — sending the strictest law in the nation to the state’s Republican governor, who is expected to sign it.
The measure permits abortion only when necessary to save a mother’s life, an unyielding standard that runs afoul of federal court rulings. Those who backed the new law said they don’t expect it to take effect, instead intending its passage to be part of a broader strategy by antiabortion activists to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide.
Governors and lawmakers across the country are rushing to pass highly restrictive abortion bills in hopes of attracting the attention of what they see as the most antiabortion U.S. Supreme Court in decades.
Sixteen states have passed or are working to pass bans on abortion after a doctor can detect what they call “a fetal heartbeat in the womb,” usually at about six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. That includes Georgia, where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a “heartbeat bill” into law on Tuesday.
In a countermove, lawmakers in a growing number of states are racing to amend state constitutions to provide a backstop for the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade.
The Alabama bill, which passed 25-6, is even more restrictive than prior state-level abortion laws. Six of the Senate’s Democrats voted against the bill — one abstained — and they staged a filibuster into Tuesday night after debating the bill for more than four hours, with senators discussing the role government should play in legislating what a woman can do with her body and the definition of life.
After a Democratic amendment to the bill that would have provided exceptions for victims of rape and incest failed 21-11, Democrats railed against the prospects of young crime victims having to carry the resultant fetuses to term and having to then live with their assailants’ children for the rest of their lives.
Republican Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said in an interview before the vote that the debate was about the idea of “personhood” and whether a fetus has rights from the outset.
“Is it a life?” Ainsworth said. “I believe it is, and if it’s a life, you can’t have any exceptions.”
The sponsor of the bill, Republican state Rep. Terri Collins, said she has empathy for survivors of rape and incest. But she also wants to make sure the law is strong enough to force federal court intervention — something she and others hope will lead to national restrictions on abortion.
Alabama Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who is shepherding his state’s bill through the chamber, opened the tense and at times dramatic session by saying the bill could have national ramifications. “When is a person a person? When does a life become a life?” he said, opening the debate on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.
“I believe that if we terminate the life of an unborn child, we are putting ourselves in God’s place,” Chambliss said.
After Democratic Sen. Rodger Smitherman questioned Chambliss about what would happen when women are victimized — he used an example of a 12-year-old girl who is raped by a relative — Chambliss said the victim should get help right away. He said the law specifically bars abortions when a woman is “known to be pregnant,” indicating that victims of crimes could get “treatment” ahead of a pregnancy test. The Plan B pill, for example, can prevent a pregnancy if taken shortly after sexual contact.