Alabama lawmakers on Wednesday advanced one of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the nation, a measure that would make performing an abortion a felony with almost no exceptions.
The House Health Committee voted to send the bill to the House of Representatives floor. The vote came after a sometimes emotional public hearing as women on both sides described their past decisions with abortion and opponents protested outside the Statehouse.
The legislation is in direct conflict with the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, and almost certain to be enjoined by the lower courts if enacted. But proponents say their goal is to spark a court case that could lead to the Supreme Court to revisit abortion rights.
“In 1973, the Supreme Court made a decision that legalized abortion. In my mind, what that does is kills an unborn child,” Republican Rep. Terri Collins said. “I think fighting to overturn what I believe was a bad decision that allowed people to kill unborn children is worth a fight,” Collins said.
The bill would make performing an abortion a felony, punishable between 10 and 99 years in prison, although a woman would not be charged for having the procedure. The legislation contains an exemption when there is a serious risk to the mother’s health, but not for rape and incest.
The committee approved the bill on a voice vote over the objections of Democrats.
Opponents said the proposal is clearly unconstitutional and the legal fight would cost the state dollars that could be spent on other needs.
“In my opinion, this is a waste of taxpayer dollars that could ultimately go to addressing those real issues,” said Rep. Neil Rafferty, a Birmingham Democrat.
The hearing drew deeply personal testimony from women who spoke either of their decision to have an abortion or their relief that they chose not to.
Rachel Bryars described the panic of an unplanned pregnancy at 22 that resulted in her now 14-year-old daughter. Bryars said she could “barely fathom how she might have been erased from existence had I followed our culture’s advice.”
Jenna King-Shepherd, who volunteers as an escort at an abortion clinic, described accompanying a 12-year-old rape victim who would have been forced to continue her pregnancy if abortion had been illegal.
Emboldened by new conservatives on the Supreme Court, abortion opponents in several states are seeking to incite new legal fights in the hopes of challenging Roe v. Wade. The Alabama bill comes on the heels of several states considering or approving bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which occurs in about the sixth week of pregnancy.
Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the proposed abortion bans are “blatantly” unconstitutional.
“It’s hard to understand that their goal is anything but a political win for themselves as conservatives. If they really cared about women, they would be doing something other than focusing on this time and time again,” Fox said.
There are existing cases in the legal pipeline that could potentially signal where the court stands on abortion, including one from Alabama.
The Alabama attorney general appealed a decision that struck down Alabama’s attempt to ban a commonly used second trimester abortion procedure. Justices have not announced whether they will hear the case.