Physicians who perform abortions could face up to 99 years in prison under a bill signed into law Wednesday by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R), following earlier approval by the state’s Senate on Tuesday evening.
In addition, attempting an abortion would be considered a class C felony, putting the physician at risk of a 10-year prison term. The woman receiving the procedure would not be held criminally or civilly liable.
The bill (HB 314) — which is now the most restrictive abortion law in the United States — will not take effect for another 6 months.
Some physician organizations expressed alarm over the legislation.
“No health care provider should ever fear jail time for providing the safe health care their patients need,” said The Very Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, interim president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), in a statement.
“This demonizing of abortion providers only emboldens anti-abortion extremists, knowing they have outspoken allies in elected office,” she said.
Yashica Robinson, MD, a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health and an Alabama ob/gyn, said the bill would be disastrous for women’s health. “Physicians will be unwilling to help patients in need, even when continuing pregnancy is detrimental to a patient’s health, or potentially fatal, out of fear of being scrutinized by the criminal justice system,” she said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Ted Anderson, MD, PhD, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), issued a statement in response to abortion restrictions being enacted around the US, but the organization has yet to issue any additional comments. In that statement, Anderson said that ACOG “strongly opposes political efforts to limit a woman’s ability to get the care she needs, including bans on abortion care.”
The organization said that abortion is healthcare, and that it opposes what it called “political interference” in healthcare. “Lawmakers must support health policies based on sound science and evidence,” said Anderson, who added that abortion restrictions “fundamentally interfere with the patient–provider relationship and decrease access to necessary care for all women, and particularly for low-income women and those living long distances from health care providers.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama said in a tweet that it, along with the National ACLU and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, “will file a lawsuit to stop this unconstitutional ban and protect every woman’s right to make her own choice about her healthcare, her body, and her future.”
The ACLU of Alabama, along with the National @ACLU and @PPFA, will file a lawsuit to stop this unconstitutional ban and protect every woman’s right to make her own choice about her healthcare, her body, and her future. #alpolitics
— ACLU of Alabama (@ACLUAlabama) May 15, 2019
But anti-abortion organizations said they were pleased with the legislation.
Donna J. Harrison, MD, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists told Medscape Medical News that the group “applauds the Alabama legislature, which took the courageous step of protecting the lives of innocent Alabama residents who live in their mother’s wombs.”
“We look forward to the day when all human life is protected and supported, both the mother and her unborn child,” she added.
In a tweet, Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, said, “Like other states that have passed laws concerning when life begins, Alabama has relied upon scientific and medical facts,” adding that, “the violence of abortion is never the answer to the violence of rape.”
— Americans United for Life (@AUL) May 15, 2019
Designed to Challenge Roe v. Wade
Rep. Terri Collins (R) introduced the legislation in early April with a stated goal of seeking to outlaw abortion nationally. “My goal with this bill, and I think all of our goal, is to have Roe vs Wade turned over, and that decision be sent back to the states so that we can come up with our laws that address and include amendments and things that address those issues,” said Collins at a press conference after the bill’s Senate passage, according to AL.com.
As introduced, the bill did not include any exceptions; both the House and Senate later rejected amendments that attempted to allow abortions in the case of rape or incest. Under the final bill, abortion will only be legal when the mother’s life is in danger.
Alabama had already taken steps to restrict abortion in the state. According to the NAF, abortion providers there must distribute materials prepared by the state and/or conduct state-directed counseling for women seeking the procedure. Women are required to wait 48 hours after contacting a provider before they can receive an abortion. And women younger than 18 have to get one parent’s consent before obtaining an abortion.
NAF says that only three centers provide abortions in the state: The Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville, West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, and Reproductive Health Services of Montgomery in Montgomery.
Alabama is the latest among US states to pass abortion restriction bills. Georgia’s governor has recently joined the governors of three other states, in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio, in signing legislation enacting so-called fetal heartbeat laws. Iowa passed one last year, according to media reports.