Alabama Senate set to take up bill effectively banning abortion

click to enlarge Alabama Senate set to take up bill effectively banning abortion
Bob Miller/The New York Times
Eric Johnston, the president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition and one of the architects of a measure that would outlaw most abortions in the state, at his offices in Birmingham, Ala., May 13, 2019. The state's lawmakers hope the measure will lead the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade, which recognized a constitutional right to end a pregnancy.

By Timothy Williams and Alan Blinder
New York Times News Service

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate is scheduled to take up abortion legislation Tuesday that would essentially ban the procedure outright.

The bill is intended to set up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy. A vote could come as soon as Tuesday evening.

The proposal is among the most aggressive efforts in decades around the country to curb abortion. Doctors who perform the procedure could be charged with a felony and face up to 99 years in prison. The bill includes an exception for cases in which the mother’s life is at serious risk; lawmakers are still debating whether to add exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

Opponents have vowed to challenge the measure in federal court if it becomes law. Even the legislation’s supporters expect that a lower court will block the measure. But it was drafted with exactly that in mind. The ban’s architects, reflecting the rising confidence of abortion critics nationwide after the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, hope t the justices will use the case to reconsider the central holding in Roe and allow the Alabama measure to take effect.

“Until now, there was no prospect of reversing Roe,” said Eric Johnston, who founded the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition and serves as its president, and has spent more than 30 years trying to ban abortion.

Johnston, who drafted the Alabama bill and sees himself as a purist on the abortion issue, said he did not support the spate of restrictive legislation other states have enacted in recent months, including so-called fetal heartbeat bills. These bills essentially ban abortions starting at six weeks after conception, a time when many women do not yet know they are pregnant.

Given the current leanings of the Supreme Court, Johnston said, having a law like that, which failed to directly challenge Roe, become the subject of the court’s next major abortion case would be a wasted opportunity.

“Why not go all the way?” he said.

Democrats and abortion-rights advocates say the Alabama measure would drive the procedure underground, endangering the lives of women and girls and disproportionately affecting poor and minority Alabamians.