MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers voted to outlaw almost all abortions in the state, igniting a legal and political battle over what would be the most restrictive law in the country as conservatives aim to challenge the Supreme Court's 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
The legislation would make performing an abortion a felony at any stage of pregnancy with almost no exceptions and is the most far-reaching attempt to limit abortion since Roe v. Wade was decided more than 40 years ago.
Abortion rights advocates Wednesday morning urged Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to reject the bill and vowed swift legal action if it is enacted.
"We are laser-focused on urging Gov. Kay Ivey to veto this dangerous bill. If she chooses not to, then we will take this to court and ensure that abortion remains safe and legal and accessible in the state of Alabama," said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast.
Ivey has not commented on the bill but the Republican fixture in Alabama has long identified as anti-abortion and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Terri Collins, said she expects her to sign the legislation.
In Alabama and other conservative states, anti-abortion politicians and activists emboldened by the addition of conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court hope to ignite legal fights and eventually overturn the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, putting an end to the constitutional right to abortion.
"Roe v. Wade has ended the lives of millions of children," Alabama Republican Sen. 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."
Democrats criticized the bill as a mixture of political grandstanding 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," Sen. Bobby Singleton said "Women in this state didn't deserve this. This is all about political grandstanding."
The bill would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for the abortion provider. The only exception would be when the woman's health is at serious risk. Under the bill, women seeking or undergoing abortions wouldn't be punished.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have 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.
Alabama senators rejected an attempt to add an exception for rape and incest. The amendment was voted down 21-11, with four Republicans joining Democrats in seeking the amendment.
Supporters had argued that exceptions would weaken their hope of creating a vehicle to challenge Roe v. Wade. Rep. Terri Collins, the bill's sponsor, said the law isn't meant to be a long-term measure and lawmakers could add a rape exception if states regain control of abortion access.
"It's to address the issue that Roe. v. Wade was decided on. Is that baby in the womb a person?" Collins said.
Democrats opposed to the bill said the measure is too extreme even in a conservative-leaning state like Alabama and said they hope their GOP counterparts feel the "wrath" of women at the ballot box.
During debate, Singleton pointed out and named rape victims watching from the Senate viewing gallery. He said that under the ban, doctors who perform abortions could serve more prison time than the women's rapists.
About 50 people rallied outside the Statehouse during the debate and chanted, "Whose choice? Our choice." Several women dressed as characters from the "The Handmaid's Tale," which depicts a dystopian future where fertile women are forced to breed.
Associated Press writer Blake Paterson in Montgomery, Alabama, contributed to this report.