Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban into law on Wednesday, effectively banning the procedure except in cases where a pregnant person’s life is at serious risk. The law does not make exceptions in cases of rape or incest and doctors could face 99 years in prison for performing abortions. We speak with Dr. Yashica Robinson, the medical director of the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives, one of only three clinics left in the state that offer patients abortion services. She is one of only two abortion providers living and working in Alabama. Under the new Alabama law, she could spend the rest of her life in prison for doing her job.
The Alabama state legislature
Alabama lawmakers are expected to vote on a bill to outlaw abortion outright in the state, which would become the strictest such law in the US if passed.
The state Senate began debating the measure on Tuesday, and must decide whether to allow exemptions for cases of rape or incest.
The bill was passed 74-3 this month in the state House of Representatives.
Activists hope it will challenge a landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion in the US.
A final vote could come on Tuesday evening.
Republican Governor Kay Ivey has not said whether she would sign it, but she is seen as a strong opponent of abortion.
Democrats plan to mount a filibuster to block the bill, but have only eight seats in the 35-member chamber.
Republican lawmaker Terri Collins, sponsor of the legislation, said: “Our bill says that baby in the womb is a person.”
Democratic state Senator Bobby Singleton said the bill “criminalises doctors” and is an attempt by men “to tell women what to do with their bodies”.
As the Senate debated whether to an exception for rape and incest, Democrat Rodger Smitherman said: “We’re telling a 12 year old girl who, through incest and rape is pregnant and we are telling her that she doesn’t have a choice.”
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What does the bill do?
It goes further than legislation passed recently elsewhere in the US to ban abortion after a foetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks into a pregnancy.
Under the Alabama measure, provision of abortion at any stage in pregnancy would be a class A felony.
Doctors could face 10 years in prison for attempting to terminate a pregnancy and 99 years for actually carrying out the procedure.
A woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable.
The bill would allow abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at serious risk.
Its text says more foetuses have been aborted than people killed in “Stalin’s gulags, Cambodian killing fields”.
An anti-abortion activist in Philadelphia
Supporters of the legislation have welcomed an inevitable challenge in federal court if the measure becomes law.
The bill’s architects expect it will be defeated in the lower courts, but hope it will end up before the Supreme Court.
Their aim ultimately is to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that recognised a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy.
Emboldened by the addition of two Trump-nominated conservative justices, anti-abortion activists are eager to take one of the most divisive issues in America back to the highest court in the land.
Eric Johnston, founded the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition that helped draft the bill, told NPR: “The dynamic has changed.
“The judges have changed, a lot of changes over that time, and so I think we’re at the point where we need to take a bigger and a bolder step.”
What’s the national picture?
If signed, the Alabama measure would become one of more than 300 laws challenging abortion access in the US.
Its passage comes amid a wave of anti-abortion measures in Republican-controlled state capitols around the nation.
Legislation to restrict abortion has been introduced in 16 of America’s 50 states this year alone, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for more abortion access.
The flurry of measures has led these activists to warn that a swathe of US territory could become an “abortion desert.”
At the other end of the political spectrum, a Democratic-sponsored bill in Virginia that would have allowed third-trimester abortions up until the point of childbirth failed to make it out of committee.
Reproductive rights groups decry Trump’s latest announcement, saying it further restricts women’s rights.
The Trump administration says it will prohibit taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions, a move likely to be challenged in court by abortion rights supporters.
The administration’s plan would also prohibit family planning clinics from being housed in the same location as abortion providers.
The policy released Friday by the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) pleased religious conservatives, a key building block of President Donald Trump‘s political base.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood has said the administration appears to be targeting them, and called the policy a “gag rule”.
“The implications of the Trump-Pence administration’s attack on Title X with a gag rule are staggering,” tweeted Leana Wen, Planned Parenthood’s president.
“It compromises the oath I took to serve my patiens and help them make the best decisions about their health,” she added, using #NoGagRule.
The final regulation was published Friday on an HHS website but would not be official until it appears in the Federal Register.
The department said there could be “minor editorial changes” to the regulations while a department official confirmed to the Associated Press it was the final version.
Known as Title X, the family-planning programme serves about four million women annually through independent clinics, many operated by Planned Parenthood affiliates.
The grant programme costs taxpayers about $260m a year.
Abortion is a legal medical procedure in the US, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of a woman.
Friday’s announcement was the latest move by President Donald Trump to restrict women’s reproductive rights.
Reproductive rights groups say Trump has waged a war against them, employing policies that have harmed women’s right to choose.
Since taking office, Trump has reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, which bans international organisations that receive US funding from providing abortion services or offering information about the procedure.
Trump has also appointed well-known anti-abortion rights activists to key posts within federal departments dealing with women’s health.
Last month, a US judge in California blocked a Trump administration birth control coverage rules, which would allow more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control, from taking effect in 13 states and Washington, DC.
“It’s 2019, yet the Trump Administration is still trying to roll back women’s rights,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said following the ruling. “Our coalition will continue to fight to ensure women have access to the reproductive healthcare they are guaranteed under the law,” he added.
But Friday’s announcement was praised by abortion opponents.
“We are celebrating the newly finalized Title X rules that will redirect some taxpayer resources away from abortion vendors,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said in a statement.
Although federal family planning funds by law cannot be used to pay for abortions, religious conservatives have long argued that the programme indirectly subsidises Planned Parenthood.
A group representing family planning clinics decried the administration’s decision.
“This rule intentionally strikes at the heart of the patient-provider relationship, inserting political ideology into a family planning visit, which will frustrate and ultimately discourage patients from seeking the healthcare they need,” Clare Coleman, head of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said in a statement.
On Capitol Hill, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a vote Thursday—not on a bill to end the government shutdown, but on a legislation to restrict abortion rights for low-income women. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would have permanently barred federal funds from paying for abortions. It stalled after it failed to muster the 60 votes needed.
PORTLAND, Maine — The protesters outside Portland’s Planned Parenthood clinic weren’t screaming Friday morning, but not because of a court order.
It was the first of the regularly scheduled anti-abortion demonstrations since a federal judge ruled that police may again enforce Maine’s noise ordinance against protesters outside the women’s health center. And the activists kept their admonitions to a low shout despite the decision not yet being in effect.
On Tuesday, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling, finding that police can enforce the noise section of the Maine Civil Rights Act against the protesters because, as written, the law is message neutral.
The ruling is the latest step in a legal drama that started in 2015 and could now be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the issue at hand being whether or not the First Amendment gives protesters the right to scream epithets such as “Murderer!” and “Whore!” at patients entering the clinic, of course, in the name of Jesus.