The US state of Alabama has approved legislation to ban abortions in almost all cases with jail terms of up to 99 years for anyone performing the procedure.
- Doctors who perform abortions could serve more prison time than a woman’s rapist
- If the Alabama bill becomes law, it would take effect in six months
- Abortion laws were decided by state until the Roe vs Wade Supreme Court case in 1973
If the Republican governor signs the measure, the state will have the strictest abortion laws in the country.
Under the change abortions would only be permitted when the mother’s life is at serious risk and abortions in instances of rape and incest would be banned.
Sixteen other states are also seeking to impose new restrictions on abortion.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia recently approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.
The Alabama bill goes further by seeking to outlaw abortion outright, and make performing an abortion a felony.
This means doctors who perform abortions could serve more prison time than a woman’s rapist.
If the Alabama bill becomes law, it would take effect in six months.
New bill challenges Roe vs Wade
Historically abortion laws were decided by each state, until in 1973 the US Supreme Court legalised abortion across the country through the landmark Roe vs Wade case.
In Alabama and other conservative states, anti-abortion politicians and activists hope to overturn the Roe vs Wade precedent, putting an end to the constitutional right to abortion.
The recent wave of restrictions is due primarily to changes in the supreme court, which is made up of nine justices.
Until last year, judges were split fairly evenly between liberal and conservative, but in July US President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative Catholic to replace retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, tipping the scales towards the right.
Anti-abortion campaigners believe the chances of further restricting abortion and challenging Roe vs Wade through the Supreme Court is now much stronger.
Anti-abortion advocates know any laws they pass are certain to be challenged, but supporters of the Alabama ban said the right to life of the foetus transcends other rights, an idea they would like tested at the Supreme Court.
“Roe vs Wade has ended the lives of millions of children,” Alabama Republican Senator Clyde Chambliss said in a statement.
“While we cannot undo the damage that decades of legal precedence under Roe have caused, this bill has the opportunity to save the lives of millions of unborn children.”
‘A dark day for women’
Outside the Alabama Statehouse, about 50 protesters rallied and chanted, “Whose choice? Our choice.”
Several women dressed as characters from The Handmaiden’s Tale, which depicts a dystopian future where fertile women are forced to breed.
In a statement, Staci Fox of Planned Parenthood Southeast said, “Today is a dark day for women in Alabama and across this country … Alabama politicians will forever live in infamy for this vote and we will make sure that every woman knows who to hold accountable.”
Democrats criticized the ban as a mixture of political grandstanding, an attempt to control women and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“The state of Alabama ought to be ashamed of herself. You ought to be ashamed. Go look in the mirror,” Senator Bobby Singleton said.
“Women in this state didn’t deserve this. This is all about political grandstanding.”
Last week, actress Alyssa Milano called for a sex strike in protest to new abortion laws in Georgia.
“JOIN ME by not having sex until we get bodily autonomy back,” tweeted Milano, the former star of “Charmed” and current cast member of “Insatiable,” which is filmed in Georgia.
The call sparked debate online with both sides weighing in, sending the hashtag #sexstrike trending on social media.