Alabama Lawmakers Debate Bill To Ban Nearly All Abortions

May 14, 2019
Originally published on May 14, 2019 7:25 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Alabama Senate is debating a bill to ban nearly all abortions. The state House has already overwhelmingly approved the legislation. It's part of a broader anti-abortion strategy to prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the right to abortion.

NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from the Alabama Statehouse. Debbie, this would be reportedly one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country should it become law. Tell us exactly what it does.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, it makes it a crime for doctors to perform abortions at any stage of a pregnancy unless a woman's life is threatened. Doctors could face felony jail time. That's, like, up to 99 years in prison if they are convicted. The only exceptions are for a serious health risk to the pregnant woman or a lethal anomaly of the fetus. There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Now, a woman could not be held criminally liable for having an abortion. This is about holding the doctors accountable.

CORNISH: The debate this evening is the second time the bill has come up in the Alabama Senate. Last week, the Republican majority chamber was not able to come to an agreement. What happened after that?

ELLIOTT: Well, it was pretty dramatic. The chamber adjourned when leaders stripped an amendment that a committee had added that would have provided an exception for cases of rape and incest. Let's listen a little bit to the chaos that ensued.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All those in favor, say aye.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No, ho - ho - ho.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Any opposed?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Ho - ho - ho.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Motion passes. Committee amendment is tabled.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. President...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Senator Chambliss...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: There was no motion. There was no motion.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It was a motion.

ELLIOTT: Things got very, very heated. Supporters of the bill insist they want to limit exceptions because this whole legislation is designed to push the idea that a fetus is a person with rights. Now, that's a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe versus Wade decision that established a woman's right to abortion in 1973. That's what has divided Republicans in the Alabama Senate. The lieutenant governor, who presides over the debate, has posted on Twitter that his position is simple. Abortion is murder. But other Senate leaders have insisted there needs to be exceptions for cases of rape and incest. Now, expect that to be the debate this evening.

Also there's going to be some Democratic opposition, but Democrats don't have enough numbers to stop the bill. They can certainly, though, slow down proceedings. The ACLU of Alabama is on record saying it will sue if this bill becomes law.

CORNISH: You know, in recent years, we've seen states with conservative-leaning legislatures enact stricter regulations on abortion, whether it be time limits or clinic requirements, waiting periods. This year it seems like it's going further. Is there a change in strategy?

ELLIOTT: I think there is. And I think it's being driven by what they see as now a conservative majority U.S. Supreme Court with two appointees from President Trump. Here's what Alabama Pro-Life Coalition President Eric Johnston told me. He helped craft the Alabama abortion ban, and this is his position on that.

ERIC JOHNSTON: The strategy here is that we will win this. There are a lot of factors. And the main one is two new judges that may give the ability to have Roe reviewed. And Justice Ginsburg - no one knows about her health.

ELLIOTT: So the states are really pushing the envelope here. Several, including Alabama's neighbors Georgia and Mississippi, have passed laws that prohibit abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, and they're a little bit further along in the legal process. But the crafters here in Alabama think that by having no threshold other than if a woman is known to be pregnant, that their law might be the one that's ripe for Supreme Court review.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Montgomery. Thanks for your reporting.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.