MONTGOMERY, Ala.—Alabama's Senate passed a near-total ban on abortion Tuesday, sending what would be the nation's most stringent abortion law to the state's Republican governor.
The Republican-dominated Senate voted 25-6 for the bill that would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for the abortion provider. The only exception would be when the woman's health is at serious risk.
Senators rejected an attempt to add an exception for rape and incest. The amendment was voted down 21-11, with four Republicans joining Democrats in the seeking the amendment.
"You don't care anything about babies having babies in this state, being raped and incest," Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton said after the amendment's defeat. "You just aborted the state of Alabama with your rhetoric with this bill."
Rep. Terri Collins, the bill's sponsor, said she expects Gov. Kay Ivey to sign the bill into law. Ivey has not publicly commented on what she'll do.
Supporters said the bill is designed to conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationally, because they hope to spark a court case that might prompt the justices to revisit abortion rights.
"It's to address the issue that Roe. v. Wade was decided on. Is that baby in the womb a person?" Collins said of the bill after approval.
The bill's sponsor and other supporters had argued that exemptions would weaken their hope of creating a vehicle to challenge Roe. Collins said the Alabama law isn't meant to be a long-term measure and lawmakers could add a rape exemption if states regain control of abortion access.
"Roe v. Wade has ended the lives of millions of children. While we cannot undo the damage that decades of legal precedence under Roe have caused, this bill has the opportunity to save the lives of millions of unborn children," Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss said in a statement after the bill's passage.
Emboldened by conservative justices who have joined the Supreme Court, abortion opponents in several states are seeking to challenge abortion access. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.
The Alabama bill goes further by seeking to outlaw abortion outright.
There would be no punishment for the woman receiving the abortion, only for the abortion provider.
The text of the bill likens abortion to history's greatest atrocities, including the Holocaust.
Democrats, who hold eight seats in the 35-member Senate, criticized the ban as a mixture of political grandstanding, an attempt to control women and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
"You don't have to provide for that child. You don't have to do anything for that child, yet you want to make that decision for that woman," Democratic Sen. Vivian Davis Figures said. "It should be that woman's choice."
During debate, Singleton pointed out and named rape victims watching from the Senate viewing gallery.
Singleton said that under the ban, doctors who perform abortions could serve more prison time than the women's rapists.
In a statement, Staci Fox, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said, "Today is a dark day for women in Alabama and across this country."
The statement also said: "Alabama politicians will forever live in infamy for this vote and we will make sure that every woman knows who to hold accountable."
Outside the Statehouse, a crowd of about 50 people held a rally, chanting, "Whose choice? Our choice."
Several women dressed as characters from the "The Handmaid's Tale," which depicts a dystopian future where fertile women are forced to breed.
The bills signal a shift from some conservative states attempting to chip around the edges of Roe and abortion access to a go-for-broke strategy of pushing outright abortion bans.
If signed into law by Ivey, the bill would take effect in six months. Critics have promised a swift lawsuit. Randall Marshall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said a complaint is being drafted to challenge the ban.
"The governor intends to withhold comment until she has had a chance to thoroughly review the final version of the bill that passed," spokeswoman Lori Jhons wrote in an email prior to Tuesday night's vote.