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'We're in the fight of our lives': Alabama abortion law spurs lawsuits and protests

The Guardian logo The Guardian 5/16/2019 Amanda Holpuch in New York and Erin Durkin in Montgomery
Pro-choice supporters protest in front of the Alabama State House as Alabama state Senate votes on the strictest anti-abortion bill in the United States at the Alabama Legislature in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. May 14, 2019. © REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry Pro-choice supporters protest in front of the Alabama State House as Alabama state Senate votes on the strictest anti-abortion bill in the United States at the Alabama Legislature in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. May 14, 2019.

The fight to prevent Alabama from implementing a near-total ban on abortion is set to rage for months after the state senate made it a crime to perform the procedure at any stage of pregnancy on Tuesday night.

The abortion legislation, the strictest of its kind in the country, is one of several recent abortion restrictions enacted at the state level designed as a direct challenge to Roe v Wade, the supreme court ruling that legalized abortion across the US four and a half decades ago.

Alabama’s Republican governor, Kay Ivey, signed the legislation on Wednesday. Women’s health advocates and Democratic politicians have promised to fight the new law, as well as the conservative-led effort to challenge abortion rights nationwide.

Leana Wen, the president of Planned Parenthood, said: “At Planned Parenthood we will do whatever it takes to stop these dangerous bans so that our patients can continue to access the care they need. We’re in the fight of our lives for our patients lives and we are ready to fight with everything we have.”

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said they will file a lawsuit against the Alabama ban, which would not take effect for at least six months.

This lawsuit will join a slew of other legal actions filed in response to efforts in other states to drastically restrict abortion access in the US.

Last week, Georgia became the sixth state to ban abortion as early as six weeks, so early into gestation that many women may not yet know they are pregnant. Similar bans gained traction after the confirmation of the conservative-leaning supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh in October.

Wen said: “If this sounds like a dangerous and dystopian future for women, it’s because it is. What was considered too extreme for state politicians just a few years ago is now becoming law in some states and the stakes could not be higher.”

On Wednesday morning, Democratic politicians, including those seeking the presidential nomination for the 2020 election, spoke out against the bill in the US Capitol and online.

Presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders promised to fight for women’s rights while condemning the ban.

As did Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York senator, who announced she would be in Atlanta on Thursday to protest against the new Georgia law.

She tweeted: “The onslaught of abortion bans passing in states – as recently as in Alabama’s legislature last night – represents the greatest threat to reproductive freedom in our lifetimes. We need to fight back, hard, on the frontlines.”

“Today, I signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act,” Ivey said in a statement, calling the bill “a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious & that every life is a sacred gift from God”.

Alabama abortion rights supporters watched in dismay as the Republican-controlled senate passed the measure by a large margin on Tuesday night, and voted down an amendment that would have allowed an exception for rape and incest.

Jenna King-Shepherd, who watched from a packed gallery at the Alabama statehouse, said she was most outraged when lawmakers looked up at rape survivors, who had given testimony during the debate, and then voted down the amendment anyway.

King-Shepherd said: “They looked them in the eye and they voted against them. That was the most appalling thing I’ve seen yet.”

Abortion opponents, meanwhile, were elated.

The Republican state representative Rich Wingo, one of the bill’s chief supporters, said: “I believe that God’s hand is in this. I believe that’s why it got approved.”

His side was also girding for a legal battle. Wingo said: “There will be a number of roadblocks and a number of hurdles, but I think there’s a path to get to the supreme court and have that discussion at the supreme court level about when does personhood begin, when does life begin.”

Those fighting the legislation stressed that women across the US should know that abortion remains legal for now, despite these state actions.

Amanda Reyes, president of the Yellowhammer Fund, which helps women pay for the procedure, said: “People start calling the clinics and calling us frantically because they believe they’re not going to be able to get the abortion.

“You can still get abortions when you need them. This thing isn’t going to go into effect for a long time, if at all.”

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