The Alabama Senate passed a bill that would limit abortion to cases in which the life of the mother is at risk, sparking praise from pro-life advocates and vows of legal challenges from abortion supporters.
On Tuesday evening, the Republican-controlled upper chamber voted 25-6 to approve a House measure that would restrict abortions beyond situations that threaten the life of the mother, ecotopic pregnancies, or fatal conditions for the baby. Abortionists who violate the law could face up to 99 years in prison if convicted.
Pro-life organizations welcomed the reform, saying that it reaffirms the humanity of the unborn. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, called it a "landmark victory" for Americans that "reject the extreme status quo of abortion on demand."
"Alabamians have made known their will to protect the unborn, first with last year's successful ballot initiative to recognize the sanctity and right to life of unborn children, and now through the bold action of the legislature to reject abortion," she said in a release. "It is clearer than ever that Roe is far from being settled law in the eyes and hearts of the American people, and this is increasingly reflected in state legislatures."
Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, said that the legislation advances the goal of protecting lives and moving toward "a day when abortion is unthinkable in our country and the world."
"We celebrate efforts to limit abortion in Alabama and elsewhere because they move us toward a place where the beauty and dignity of every human life is valued and protected," he said in a statement. "Ultimately, we look forward to a day when abortion is unthinkable in our country and the world."
The Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling is widely recognized for legalizing abortion on demand and establishing the trimester approach to pregnancy and abortion. While those were the practical effects, the ruling itself centered on striking down all state laws that banned or stringently limited access to abortion. The focus on abortion legislation has turned toward the states since the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanuagh in 2018, which was seen as a potential shift in the Supreme Court's ideological balance given outgoing Justice Anthony Kennedy's support for abortion access in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling that reaffirmed Roe. In the wake of the appointment lawmakers have passed bills that have dramatically expanded abortion guidelines or retracted them.
Abortion supporters have pledged to challenge the legality of the bill before the courts if it is signed into law. Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, called the vote a "dark day for women in Alabama." She pledged to mount a campaign against lawmakers who supported the bill, but to also file suit.
"Banning abortion is bad enough. Imprisoning doctors for providing care goes beyond the brink," she said in a statement. "We will take this to court and ensure abortion remains safe and legal."
Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has an extensive pro-life track record, though she has not yet signaled whether she will sign the legislation into law. The prospect of a legal challenge, however, will not affect her decision.
"You certainly cannot deter your efforts to protect the unborn because of cost, even if it means going to the United States Supreme Court," she said at a Wednesday press conference.
The prospect of a legal challenge is the one area that abortion supporters and pro-life activists agree on. Both groups have expressed their support for putting Alabama's law in the hands of Supreme Court justices. Dannenfelser said the abortion debate has been stifled by the rigidness imposed by the Roe ruling, an issue that the Roberts Court could address by returning the debate to the American people and their elected representatives.
"The American people want a fresh debate and a new direction, achieved by consensus and built on love for both mothers and babies," she said in a statement. "The time is coming for the Supreme Court to let that debate go forward."
The Alabama bill advanced just days after Vermont lifted nearly all abortion restrictions up until the point of birth and weeks after Georgia limited abortion once a heartbeat is detected, which generally occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy.