WASHINGTON -- Advocates are preparing for a legal battle after Alabama passed the strictest abortion bill in the country late Tuesday, part of a growing national push by abortion opponents to test whether the courts will curb constitutional protections for the procedure.
Alabama's move, which would essentially ban abortion in most cases, could open the door to restrictions in other states -- even though they will all likely be challenged in court. Other states are already pursuing and defending laws to ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
"This is not just about Alabama. We are seeing these extreme bills being introduced across the country," said Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen in a call with reporters Wednesday. "These extreme bans banning abortions at six weeks or earlier, before women even know we're pregnant, is happening in 16 states."
Alabama's bill, which Wen called the most extreme abortion ban since the landmark Roe v. Wade case guaranteed a national right to abortion in 1973, would go farther than the approach taken in many other red states. The legislation would ban abortion at any stage of pregnancy, unless needed to save the life of the woman, and has no exceptions for rape or incest. Abortion providers who violate these terms could be charged with a felony and punished for up to 99 years in prison.
"Doctors would be scared to provide needed medical treatment because we'd be worried that by doing what's needed for our patients we could go to prison for a lifetime," said Wen, who is also a trained emergency room physician.
Alabamians already face many barriers to abortion, including a 48-hour waiting period and mandated counseling. Half of the patients in Alabama and two other states served by Planned Parenthood Southeast travel over 100 miles to reach a clinic, said Staci Fox, who heads the group's advocacy arm.
The American Civil Liberties Union has already signaled it will challenge the Alabama bill in court if Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who opposes abortion, signs it.
The ACLU and Planned Parenthood also filed suit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio over Ohio's six-week abortion law.
This year, four states have already passed bans after six weeks of pregnancy, and Missouri is expected to pass its own ban by Friday when the legislative session ends. The state legislature there is considering an omnibus abortion bill that would combine a number of restrictions.
Elizabeth Watson, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, on a separate press call, called the Ohio bill part of the growing "concerted national effort to limit abortion."