MONTGOMERY, Ala. – As a crop duster with a banner saying “Abortion is OK” hummed above the Capitol, circling back and forth around the governor's mansion, a group of women below let out a cheer.
“Just another day in Alabama,” said Mia Raven, director of People Organizing for Women's Empowerment and Rights (POWER) House. “We knew this would pass and we got ready.”
Amanda Reyes, who works with an abortion fund, was wearing an “I'm on the Pill” T-shirt, complete with instructions printed on the back detailing how to get a medical abortion. She also looked skyward: “Here it comes again! That's just the coolest thing.”
Hours after the Alabama Senate voted late Tuesday to ban abortions in almost all circumstances – including in cases of rape and incest – women's rights activists and pro-choice advocates said the decision to approve the nation's strictest abortion measure has energized them. Knowing that the bill was designed to challenge Roe v. Wade, they are gearing up for the fight.
Surrounded by posters and signs like “This Clinic Stays Open,” Raven called the passage of Alabama's restrictive law “totally expected.”
“And totally blatantly unconstitutional,” she said Wednesday outside of Reproductive Health Services, one of three clinics that perform abortions in Alabama. Raven has served as an escort to those seeking abortions here, and a hanger charm dangles from her necklace, displaying the instrument that in the past has been used for abortions that had to be done in secret.
“We are open for women who need abortions. We are fighting. We won't stop.”
Conservatives and anti-abortion activists also were prepared for a battle, celebrating the Alabama vote as a victory for their movement and a step toward a national legal reckoning over abortion. Though not demonstrating in the streets, Alabama's anti-abortion base – which recently helped define the state as officially pro-life at the ballot box – took solace in the fact that the state's ban on abortion set a new restrictive standard.
“Being a conservative follower of Christ who is pro-life, who believes life begins at conception, this has been what we've been longing for,” said Alabama evangelist and minister Scott Dawson, who ran as a GOP candidate for governor in Alabama in 2018. “After years of talk and people campaigning on being pro-life, these Republican senators stood for that in last night's debate.”
The Senate's approval of the legislation in a party-line 25-6 vote Tuesday night sent it to Gov. Kay Ivey's desk. A Republican who campaigned as an advocate of restrictions on abortion, Ivey has long supported anti-abortion measures in Alabama.
Ivey signed the law Wednesday, saying in a statement that the legislation “stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians' deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”
Ivey said she recognizes that the bill might be unenforceable because of Roe v. Wade, and she said “we must always respect the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court even when we disagree with their decisions.” She said the sponsors of the bill “believe that it is time, once again, for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit this important matter, and they believe this act may bring about the best opportunity for this to occur.”
Staci Fox, president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the group has vowed to fight the “dangerous abortion ban” at every step and plans to sue the state.
“We haven't lost a case in Alabama yet and we don't plan to start now,” Fox said. “We will see Gov. Ivey in court. In the meantime, abortion is still safe, legal and available in the state of Alabama, and we plan to keep it that way.”
The bill passed after more than four hours of debate. The chamber's small group of Democrats spoke emotionally on the Senate floor, decrying a bill they said would force crime victims who suffer rapes and incest to give birth to babies that are the progeny of their attackers.
The GOP-dominated Senate voted down an amendment that would have added exceptions for rape and incest – though four Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the amendment, some of whom had said publicly that they were having trouble with an absolute ban.
The only exceptions in the bill are in cases when the health of the mother is at risk and if the fetus has a “fatal anomaly” that would cause it to die soon after birth.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Terri Collins, said it is intended to serve as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. The Republican lawmaker said she hopes the bill will establish that personhood begins at conception.
Dawson said those who support restrictions on abortion – even in the case of a woman impregnated by rape or incest – believe the unborn fetus' rights must be taken into account and that this bill is a step toward that goal.
Eric Johnston, the chairman and founder of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, has been working to make abortion illegal for decades, and he drafted the current measure, aiming for a Supreme Court that he believes will rule against abortion.
“Last year, we decided this is probably the time. The time seems right, and the circumstances seemed right,” Johnston said, noting that he believes federal precedent on abortion is “fraudulent and improper. Now everyone can see the humanity of the child.”
He said Wednesday that the bill needed to pass in its pure form, with almost no allowed exceptions, or else it wouldn't send the right message. Johnston said he and other anti-abortion activists spent the weekend calling legislators to shore up the vote against an amendment that would have added those exceptions.
“If this exception was added to the bill, it would have killed the bill,” Johnston said. “Whether you were raped or a victim of incest or get pregnant by consent or accident or even artificial insemination, it's still a person. We could not argue to the court with a straight face that it's a person in one instance but not in another.”
Ohio's 'fetal heartbeat' bill faces suit
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics sued Wednesday to thwart Ohio's latest and most restrictive abortion law, an anticipated move that's part of a national anti-abortion strategy to challenge the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
Wednesday's lawsuit filed in federal court in Columbus by groups represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights attorneys says banning abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat is unconstitutional and would prohibit nearly all abortions in Ohio, or as many as nine of every ten.
A detectable heartbeat can come as early as five or six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they're pregnant. The Ohio law makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine last month.
– Associated Press