Alabama’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a near-total abortion ban, a piece of legislation that the bill’s sponsor called a “direct attack” on Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that protects a woman’s right to an abortion. Politicians in the statehouse voted against adding an amendment that would have added an exception for victims of rape and incest.
After several hours of contentious debate on Tuesday evening, Alabama politicians overwhelmingly passed House Bill 314, the “Human Life Protection Act,” 74 to 3, pushing the bill forward to the state Senate. Of the state’s 105 representatives, 28 refused to vote after Republicans blocked the rape and incest amendment.
If passed into law, the legislation would criminalize abortion, classifying it as a Class A felony in Alabama. That means that a doctor caught performing abortions in the state would face up to 99 years in prison under the proposed law.
“The heart of this bill is to confront a decision that was made by the courts in 1973 that said the baby in the womb is not a person,” said Representative Terri Collins, the bill’s sponsor, during the debate. “This bill addresses that one issue. Is that baby in the womb a person? I believe our law says it is.”
Because federal law supersedes state law, Alabama would be in violation of the U.S. Constitution if lawmakers attempted to implement the legislation, noted several politicians. If passed, the legislation would likely join a host of other contested laws that anti-abortion activists hope will rise to the Supreme Court and potentially overturn Roe v. Wade. The proposed law flatly rejects the decision saying that “judges and legal scholars have disagreed and dissented with its finding.”
Noting how expensive eventual litigation surrounding the abortion ban would be, House Democrats proposed an amendment to the bill that would fund those lawsuits with the salaries of any House members that voted to pass the measure. The amendment was tabled, meaning that it was rejected before it could be brought to a vote.
Proponents of the legislation also tabled a proposed amendment that would have added an exception to the law for victims of rape and incest, sparking outrage from House Democrats.
“What does that say to the women in the state and the mothers in the state and the grandmothers in the state,” House Minority leader Anthony Daniels said in a press conference, according to Brian Lyman, a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser who was in the statehouse on Tuesday.
After the amendment was rejected, House Democrats walked out of the chamber and refused to vote on the final bill. Representative A.J. McCampbell said to Lyman, “We really wanted them to have it alone. It’s theirs now.”
“Today’s floor debate made it crystal clear what Alabama lawmakers think about women. It also revealed just how callous and flagrant they can be,” Staci Fox, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, said.” They voted overwhelmingly to reject any exception for rape or incest. And, despite acknowledging that this bill will inevitably end in litigation, costing taxpayers millions of dollars, they rejected the opportunity to ‘put their money where their mouth is,’ as Rep. Merika Coleman put it.”
Fox called the bill a “death sentence for women across this state.”
State politicians also failed to remove language in the bill that compared the lives lost in the Holocaust to the number of abortions that have occurred since Roe v. Wade, a comparison that Jewish advocates called “outrageously offensive.”
“The Holocaust and other crimes against humanity have absolutely no place in legislation concerning a woman’s constitutional right to control her own body,” Nancy Kaufman, the chief executive officer of NCJW, said. “The language in Alabama’s bill is unconscionable and sets a dangerous precedent as a growing number of states restrict access to basic reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion.”
Prior to the vote on House Bill 314, politicians welcomed Holocaust survivors and a rabbi to the statehouse in honor of Alabama’s Holocaust Commemoration Day.