The Republican-dominated House of Representatives voted 74-3 for legislation that would make it a felony to perform an abortion at any stage in a woman’s pregnancy. The proposal passed after Democrats walked out of the chamber after sometimes emotional debate with opponents and supporters crowding the gallery. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate.
Supporters said the bill is intentionally designed to conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationally, hoping to spark court cases that might prompt the justices to revisit Roe. The bill contains an exemption for situations in which there is a serious risk to the mother’s health, but not for rape and incest.
“The heart of this bill is to confront a decision that was made by the courts in 1973 that said the baby in a womb is not a person,” said Republican Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur.
Republicans in the chamber applauded after the bill was approved after more than two hours of sometimes emotional debate. Collins acknowledged that such a ban would likely be struck down by lower courts, but she said the aim is eventually to get to the Supreme Court.
Without the numbers to stop the bill, Democrats walked off the House floor ahead of the vote, calling the proposal both extreme and fiscally irresponsible. They said the ban would cost the state money for a potentially expensive legal fight that could be spent on other needs.
Rep. Louise Alexander, a Democrat, said the choice to give birth to a child should be left up to a woman, and the decision should not be made on the floor of the Alabama Legislature.
“You don’t know why I may want to have an abortion. It may be because of my health. It may be because of many reasons. Until all of you in this room walk in a woman’s shoes, y’all don’t know,” Alexander said.
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.
The Alabama bill attempts to go farther by banning abortion at any stage of pregnancy.
House Republicans voted down Democrats’ attempt to amend the bill to add an exemption for rape and incest. Representatives voted 72-26 to table the proposed amendment.
“They would not even allow an exception for rape and incest. What does that say to the women in this state,” House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels.
Collins argued that adding exemptions would weaken the intent of the bill as a vehicle to challenge Roe. She said if states regain the ability to decide abortion access, Alabama lawmakers could come back and decide what exemptions to allow.
The bill drew a crowd of opponents and supporters to the House gallery. A group of abortion clinic escorts wore their rainbow-colored vests in the House gallery. A demonstrator was arrested on disorderly conduct charges after shouting “dumb,” attempting to write on the glass window overlooking to the House chamber and throwing paint at legislative security officers, House spokesman Clay Redden said.
Rep. Rolanda Hollis, a Birmingham Democrat, read a poem that criticized Republicans’ embrace of gun rights but not abortion rights, and later referred to the state as “Ala-Backwards.”
The text of the Alabama bill likens legalized abortion to history’s greatest atrocities, including the Holocaust.
Tuscaloosa Republican Rep. Rich Wingo, a supporter of the bill, likened abortion to murder and read statistics that estimate that there have been 60 million abortions since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision.
“I believe this chamber, this body, will never make a greater decision than today… protecting the life of an unborn child,” Wingo said.