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Senate passes total abortion ban, punishing providers with up to 99 years in prison

The Alabama Senate voted 25 to 6 to pass a total abortion ban Tuesday night, making it a felony to terminate a pregnancy at any point and punishable by up to 99 years in prison.

After hours of debate, the male-dominated Senate sent the governor one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country. The abortion ban would take effect six months after the bill becomes law. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has not said whether she will sign the measure.

Alabama’s extreme legislation comes just one week after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a near-total abortion ban into law, banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, beginning in 2020. Both measures are intended as a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established the constitutional right to abortion.

“This decision could have an impact on our state as well as our nation,” said state Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R), who brought the bill to the floor.

“This bill isn’t about the right to life. This bill is about control,” said state Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D), one of four women elected to the Senate, all of whom voted no.

Unlike other GOP-controlled states, where lawmakers have limited access by banning a type of procedure or banning abortion up to a specific gestational age of the fetus, Alabama’s bill is a total ban. Under Alabama’s ban, providers could face jail time of 10 to 99 years for providing abortions. Patients are exempt from criminal and civil charges.

The only exception is if the health of the pregnant woman or gender minority is at serious risk. But the possibility of jail time makes it unlikely that providers will perform any abortions no matter what the bill says, advocates warn.

“If the anti-abortion politicians leading our state of Alabama make the grave mistake of passing a bill that would criminalize those who provide abortion care, it would have a disastrous effect on the health and well-being of Alabamians,” Dr. Yashica Robinson, an OB-GYN in Alabama for 15 years and member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in a statement to ThinkProgress. “Physicians will be unwilling to help patients in need, even when continuing pregnancy is detrimental to a patient’s health, or potentially fatal, out of fear of being scrutinized by the criminal justice system,” she added.

After much debate Tuesday, lawmakers decided against adding an exception for rape or incest to the bill, in a 21 to 11 vote. The Democrat who introduced the amendment, Bobby Singleton, got emotional thinking about the amendment failing. “You just said to my daughter, ‘You don’t matter. You don’t matter in the state of Alabama’ … I got to go home and tell her, ‘The state of Alabama doesn’t care about you, baby,” if she’s raped, he said of one of his two daughters. When the Alabama Senate considered the bill last week, lawmakers erupted in a shouting match over whether or not to include rape and incest exceptions, and then postponed the vote.

Advocacy groups are likely to challenge Alabama’s ban, which doesn’t concern lawmakers who voted for it. Indeed, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill hopes such a lawsuit is taken up by the Supreme Court, where conservative justices will eliminate the constitutional right to abortion.

“What I’m trying to do here is get this case in front of the Supreme Court so Roe v. Wade can be overturned,” Alabama state Rep. Terri Collins (R) told The Washington Post.

Democrats took issue with Republicans using the bill as a test case to challenge Roe. Alabama has spent a lot of money defending its anti-abortion laws; for example, the state paid $1.7 million to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) after federal courts struck down a 2013 restriction, according to local media.

“You know what that $1.7 million dollars could have bought?… It could have paid for 33 teachers,” state Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said on the floor Tuesday evening. “Why would you do that to the people of Alabama?… You are gambling with taxpayer dollars.”

Figures offered an amendment to the bill that would force lawmakers who vote in favor of the ban to pay the associated legal fees; the amendment failed.

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