(Reuters) - A federal judge blocked Alabama on Tuesday from enforcing the strictest abortion laws in the country, saying the ban on all abortions unless a mother's health was in danger was unconstitutional.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, had signed the bill into law in May and it was due to come into effect on Nov. 15.
A Christian, she invoked God in support of the law, saying it would protect his creation, while opponents said it came at the expense of women's health and constitutional rights.
Those performing abortions would be committing a felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. A woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable. The law makes no exceptions even for rape and incest.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued to overturn the law, which clashes with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973 that established a constitutional right to abortion.
Religious conservative Republicans have sought to enact a wave of abortion restrictions around the country in the hopes that one case or another might reach the Supreme Court and lead to the erosion of the Roe v. Wade ruling.
Judge Myron H. Thompson of the United States District Court in Middle Alabama has blocked the Alabama abortion ban from being enforced until the lawsuit is resolved.
"Alabama's abortion ban contravenes clear Supreme Court precedent," the judge wrote in his order. "It defies the United States Constitution."
Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement that the Alabama law was part of a "nationwide strategy to push abortion out of reach."
"Today's decision recognizes this ban for what it is: a blatantly unconstitutional attack on the fundamental right to abortion," she said in a statement.
Attorney General Steve Marshall, who was defending the law in court, did not respond to a request for comment.
The states of Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio passed laws this year outlawing abortion past the point where a doctor is able to detect an embryonic heartbeat, a threshold that could be reached even before a woman realizes she is pregnant. Those laws are also being challenged in court.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)