Alabama abortion bill: New law part of ‘US-wide strategy to push abortion out of reach for all women’

Maya Oppenheim

Campaigners say Alabama’s new law mandating a near total ban on abortion is part of a nationwide “coordinated strategy” to make abortion inaccessible for women across America.

The legislation, which is the most restrictive abortion bill in the US, would make carrying out an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy punishable by 10 to 99 years in jail.

The strict abortion ban, which has been branded a “death sentence for women”, would even criminalise performing abortions in cases of rape and incest. While doctors would face ten years in prison for attempting to terminate a pregnancy, they would face 99 years for carrying out the procedure.

Of the 27 Republicans, all men, that dominate the 35-seat Alabama senate, 25 voted to pass the bill late on Tuesday. None of the senate’s four female senators backed the ban which has now been sent to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk for signature into law.

While supporters say they expect the law to be blocked in court, they hope that the appeals process will bring it before the Supreme Court. They want the court to overturn Roe v Wade - the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion nationwide in 1973.

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a lawyer who will be challenging the controversial bill, said: “We are disappointed but we are ready to fight. What Alabama has done is part of a national coordinated strategy to push abortion out of reach for all women. We are going to go to court and make sure that does not happen.

“For years, Alabama has been pushing laws that chip away at abortion but what happened last night, and what is happening in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Georgia, is an example of politicians showing their true colours. They are launching an unprecedented, and the most extreme attack, on abortion in recent years.

“If the law took effect, it would be devastating. While the Alabama law does not explicitly criminalise women, we know a criminalised atmosphere around abortion does, and would, inevitably have an impact on the women themselves. If the law took effect, doctors would stop providing abortions. You do not want to run afoul of a law which carries 99 years. We are also afraid it would have a chilling effect on doctors carrying out other work. You could be wrongly accused when treating pregnant women.”

Ms Kolbi-Molinas, who has been fighting for abortion rights at the American Civil Liberties Union for 12 years, said Alabama and other states already have “abysmal maternity and prenatal care” for women.

She said that the ACLU, the largest human rights defence organisation in the US, has had four or five cases in Alabama in recent years challenging “these medically unnecessary and politically motivated restrictions” and they had been successful in blocking all of them – adding that she remained “optimistic” this latest bill would be the same.

Ms Kolbi-Molinas said there are people on the ground in Alabama “fighting every day” to make access to abortion “a reality for anyone who needs it”, adding that they had been fighting this law “all the way”.

The fact the bill did not even allow abortions in instances of rape and incest was, however, a representative of “how extreme” the politicians behind the legislation are, she said, as it was previously very rare to see a law that does not have exceptions.

Alabama’s new bill comes as politicians in several other states propose legislation to restrict abortion such as Georgia’s recent heartbeat bill. Some sixteen other states are trying to impose new restrictions on abortion.

Alabama state lawmakers compare abortions in America to the Holocaust and other modern genocides in the legislation - spurring Jewish activists and abortion rights groups to rebuke the bill as “deeply offensive.”

Dr Ben Kasstan, a medical anthropologist based at the University of Sussex in the UK, said: “The dystopian tales penned by Margaret Atwood increasingly resemble reality in the US, as a bill against performing abortion - except if a woman's health is at serious risk – is set to be passed in the State of Alabama.

“Physicians, in reality, will have to interpret what serious means, and will likely provide care defensively and in fear of law enforcement. This extreme legislation forms part of a Republican pledge to curtail access to the full continuum of women's sexual and reproductive healthcare.

"Such restrictive abortion regimes do not stop women from requiring abortion: it forces women to either travel to access care legally, or to possibly make dangerous decisions about their health. Conversely, men are rarely, if at all, forced to make such decisions about their health.”

Republican Governor Kay Ivey, who has aligned herself as anti-abortion previously, will have six days to sign the legislation but the bill would not take effect until six months after becoming law. She has said she will only decide whether or not to sign it into law once she has considered the final version.

Alarm bells have been raised that Roe v Wade could be overturned or radically undermined with new conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh - who are both Trump appointees.

Abortion opponents in other states have been emboldened to attempt to provoke new legal battles that could spark Supreme Court justices to revisit the key case.

Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a foetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. At six weeks, many women do not yet know they are pregnant.

Earlier this year the Supreme Court blocked implementation of new abortion restrictions in Louisiana. But the ruling was made by a narrow margin - with the case due to be reviewed later this year.