Alabama’s bill goes significantly further than other recent ones we’ve seen at the state level. The bill holds doctors criminally liable for performing abortions at any point in pregnancy. If Governor Kay Ivey signs the bill into law, completed abortions would be considered a Class A felony, and attempted abortions would be a Class B felony. The legislation provides exceptions for abortions in the case of a “serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother” and in cases where “the unborn child has a lethal anomaly.” It does not, however, provide an exception for instances of rape or incest, although multiple amendments proposed that addition; legislators apparently wanted to pass a “clean” bill to send to the Supreme Court. Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortion services in the United States, is calling the bill “the most extreme abortion ban since Roe v. Wade” was decided.
[Read: Science is giving the pro-life movement a boost]
Conservative legislators see themselves as champions of medical science and human rights. In the preamble to their new bill, Alabama legislators write that “medical science has increasingly recognized the humanity of the unborn child,” and point to a number of technological advancements in the past four decades that allow greater understanding of fetal development. They cite the principle laid out in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal”; they claim that their efforts are in the same spirit as the anti-slavery movement, the women’s-suffrage movement, the Nuremberg war-crimes trials, and the civil-rights movement. They point to the Holocaust, Joseph Stalin’s Soviet gulags, the Rwandan genocide, and other slaughters, arguing that the number of lives taken in those horrific crimes are small compared with the alleged “50 million babies [that] have been aborted in the United States since the Roe decision in 1973.”
These justifications illuminate the motivation behind the new Alabama bill and similar legislation. Conservative lawmakers believe they are mounting a challenge to one of the most inhumane and flawed Supreme Court decisions of our time. Abortion opponents have attempted to restrict the procedure and overturn Roe ever since it came down, but they now believe they have a greater chance of success. But there’s no way to guarantee which state-level bill will eventually make its way to the Supreme Court, or that the sitting justices will reverse Roe in a single decision. For a decade or longer, the anti-abortion movement has put in place a barrage of state-level restrictions with the goal of starting court challenges. But in recent years at the high court, most have failed; in a 2015 decision, the Supreme Court forcefully pushed back against burdensome abortion regulations passed in the name of women’s health.