Alabama’s Republican-controlled state senate has passed a bill to outlaw abortion – challenging a landmark US Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion across the country in the 1970s.
The legislation approved by 25 votes to six on Tuesday amounts to a near-total ban on abortion in the state, making it a crime to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy and punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison.
The only exception would be when the woman’s health is at serious risk.
The bill contains no exception for rape and incest.
Arguing in favour of the measure and the omission of these exceptions during the senate debate, Republican Senator Clyde Chambliss said: “When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb, it is not our place as human beings to extinguish that life.”
Senator Vivian Davis Figures, a Democrat and one of just four women in the 35-member senate, said: “You don’t have to provide for that child, yet you want to make that decision for that woman.
“It should be that woman’s choice.”
During the emotionally charged debate, senate minority leader Bobby Singleton pointed to and named rape victims watching from the public gallery.
The Democrat said under the proposed ban, doctors who performed abortions could serve more time in prison than rapists.
After an amendment to make exceptions in the case of rape and incest was voted down by 21 votes to 11, he accused proponents of the legislation of having “raped the state of Alabama” and described the measure as a “disgrace” and “travesty”.
Senate majority leader Greg Reed said the legislation “simply recognises that an unborn baby is a child who deserves protection”.
“Despite the best efforts of abortion proponents, this bill will become law because Alabamians stand firmly on the side of life,” added the Republican senator.
The bill will now go to Republican Governor Kay Ivey, who is a strong opponent of abortion, but has refused to comment on whether she would sign it for approval.
If she does sign it, the bill would take effect in six months.
Supporters of abortion rights gathered outside the senate to protest against the move.
Several women were dressed as characters from the The Handmaid’s Tale, which depicts a dystopian future where fertile women are forced to breed.
“My body!” they chanted. “My voice!”
“This is nothing but a political game and women are the pawns,” said Staci Fox, chief executive and president of Planned Parenthood Southeast.
“Let’s be honest, banning abortion does not stop abortion. It stops safe and legal abortion.”
A total of 16 states so far this year have introduced legislation restricting abortion rights.
The governors of four of these states – Georgia, Kentucky, Mississipp and Ohio – have signed bills banning abortion if an embryonic heartbeat can be detected.
Supporters of the Alabama bill hope it will trigger a court case that might push US Supreme Court justices into revisiting the abortion rights issue.
The court’s landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalised abortion nationally.