Alabama bill to send abortion doctors to jail sets up Supreme Court fight

shutterstock 554738260 Alabama State Capitol Building in Montgomery. Via Shutterstock

The Alabama House of Representatives has passed a bill that would make performing an abortion a Class A felony offence. The Human Life Protection Act would mean doctors who perform abortion could face years in prison.

The bill was carried in the House by a margin of 74-3 on April 30. It must now be passed by the state Senate and approved by Gov. Kay Ivy (R).

Unlike so-called "trigger laws" passed in other states, which would outlaw abortion in the event that the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v Wade is overturned, the Alabama measure would come into effect within a year of being signed into law.

Under current Supreme Court jurisprudence, abortion is defined as a constitutional right. If the Human Life Protection Act were to become law, it would face an immediate challenge and likely be prevented from coming into force. Supporters of the bill said their intention is to use the ensuing court battle to force the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v Wade.

State Rep. Terri Collins (R - Decatur) said that the law is designed to "confront a decision that was made by the courts in 1973 that said the baby in a womb is not a person."

"This bill addresses that one issue. Is that baby in the womb a person? I believe our law says it is," Collins said.

As a Class-A felony, performance of an abortion would carry a potential prison sentence of 10-99 years but, the bill's supporters noted, would only apply to doctors and not to mothers.

Collins underlined that the bill "makes it a criminal offense to perform an abortion as a doctor. The woman would be held blameless."

Following the confirmation of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates have speculated that the Supreme Court could be open to revisiting abortion in an upcoming judicial session.

In anticipation of a possible change by the court, several states have passed legislation either restricting or entrenching abortion in state law.

The Human Life Protection Act goes further in attempting to outlaw abortion then other recent efforts.

Several states have passed so-called "heartbeat bills" which would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The Alabama bill would criminalize abortion at any stage of pregnancy.

While it does contain an exception for circumstances where the health of the mother is at serious risk, a proposed amendment which would allow for abortion in cases of rape or incest was defeated 72-26.

During the debate, state Rep. John Rogers (D- Birmingham) sparked controversy when he argued that abortion was necessary because unwanted children would be eventually killed, whether or not they were born.

"Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair. So, you kill them now or you kill them later," Rogers said.

The representative also said that mothers should be able to abort "retarded" or "half-deformed" children.

Other critics of the bill noted the likely expense to the state which would be incurred by years of legal appeals, and suggested that it was a waste of government resources.

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Rep. Rich Wingo, (R-Tuscaloosa), said the bill went to the heart of human dignity for the unborn, and noted that in his district a single clinic performed 3,500 abortions a year.

"There are more abortions in Tuscaloosa than births," Wingo said.

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