By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) - Alabama's state Senate on Tuesday began final debate on a bill that would outlaw nearly all abortions, allowing exceptions only to prevent a serious health risk to the mother.
The measure was expected to come up for a vote later Tuesday and was likely to pass in the Republican-controlled chamber.
If so, Alabama would become the latest in a procession of U.S. states to advance anti-abortion bills, part of a strategy by anti-abortion activists to get the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The bill was previously approved by the Alabama House of Representatives. Republican Governor Kay Ivey has withheld comment on whether she would sign it but generally is a strong opponent of abortion.
The law would take effect six months after being signed by the governor, but in the meantime would be certain to face legal challenge. The American Civil Liberties Union is among the groups vowing to sue to stop the law, saying it violates a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.
Legislation to restrict abortion rights has been introduced in 16 states this year, four of whose governors have signed bills banning abortion if an embryonic heartbeat can be detected, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion rights.
Opponents called that legislation a virtual ban because embryonic heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks, before a woman may be aware she is pregnant.
The Alabama bill goes further, banning abortions at any time. People who perform abortions would be subject to a Class A felony, punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison, although a woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable.
Republican Senator Clyde Chambliss, arguing in favor of the bill, said the whole point was "so that we can go directly to the Supreme Court to challenge Roe versus Wade."
The U.S. Supreme Court, now with a majority of conservative justices after Republican President Donald Trump appointed two, could possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision establishing a woman's right to an abortion.
Democratic Senator Vivian Davis Figures, in fighting the bill, asked Chambliss to at least consider exceptions for rape and incest.
"You don't have to raise that child. You don't have to carry that child. You don't have to provide for that child. And yet, you want to make that decision," Figures said.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney and Cynthia Osterman)