MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones condemned Alabama’s new abortion ban as “extreme” and “irresponsible” Thursday, a day after the state’s Republican governor signed the most restrictive abortion measure in the country into law.
“I think this bill, frankly, is shameful. It is callous,” Jones told reporters. “This bill uses rape victims and victims of incest at all ages, even minors, as political pawns.”
The legislation signed by Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday would make performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases, punishable by up to life in prison, and contains no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Supporters hope to launch a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made the medical procedure legal.
“To the bill’s many supporters, this 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 in a statement after signing the bill.
Jones, the lone Democrat to hold statewide office in Alabama, said he thought the debate was focused on the “most extreme voices on both sides.”
“I just don’t think that it is representative of what most people in Alabama think or what they want from the government,” he said.
But the law’s sponsor, Rep. Terri Collins, said she believes a majority of Alabamians support it: 59% of state voters in November agreed to write anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution, saying the state recognizes the rights of the “unborn.”
“It’s to address the issue that Roe. v. Wade was decided on: Is that baby in the womb a person?” Collins said.
The Alabama abortion ban is the most far-reaching measure as some right-wing states push new abortion restrictions in the hopes of getting a case before the conservative Supreme Court majority.
The abortion ban would go into effect in six months if it is not blocked by legal challenges, which Jones anticipates will cost millions of dollars.
“This bill is unconstitutional as it stands right now and, I believe, irresponsible,” he said.
Abortion rights advocates have vowed swift legal action.
“We haven’t lost a case in Alabama yet and we don’t plan to start now. We will see Governor Ivey in court,” said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast.
The legislation Alabama senators passed Tuesday would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by 10 to 99 years or life in prison for the provider. The only exception would be when the woman’s health is at serious risk. Women seeking or undergoing abortions wouldn’t be punished.
“It just completely disregards women and the value of women and their voice. We have once again silenced women on a very personal issue,” said state Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, a Birmingham Democrat.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia recently approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. Missouri’s Republican-led Senate voted early Thursday to ban abortions at eight weeks, with no rape or incest exceptions. Louisiana lawmakers have been speeding toward passing a six-week ban.
Dr. Yashica Robinson, who provides abortions in Huntsville, Alabama, said her clinic fielded calls from frightened patients Wednesday.
“This is a really sad day for women in Alabama and all across the nation,” she said. “It’s like we have just taken three steps backwards as far as women’s rights and being able to make decisions that are best for them and best for their families.”
But Robinson said the bill is also having an energizing effect. With phone lines jammed, she said messages came streaming across their fax machine.
“We had letters coming across the fax just asking what they can do to help and telling us they are sending us their love and support our way,” Robinson said.