SALT LAKE CITY — On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law the most restrictive abortion policy in the U.S., banning abortions at any stage of pregnancy, criminalizing the procedure for physicians, and making no exceptions for rape or incest, The New York Times reported.
The bill was approved by the Alabama House of Representatives earlier this month and the state Senate yesterday.
"This legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians' deeply held belief that every life is precious and every life is a sacred gift from God," Ivey said in a statement.
Here are five things to know about the controversial legislation:
1. The law is designed to reach a Supreme Court audience.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Terri Collins, acknowledged the bill’s restrictive reach would ensure favorable legislative prospects as well as legal challenges from organizations such as Planned Parenthood, as the Deseret News previously reported.
The bill's creators intended for the legal challenges to rise to the Supreme Court, affording the chance to argue for an overturn of Roe v. Wade, reports The New York Times. With the current conservative majority of the Supreme Court, this overturn becomes a possibility.
Eric Johnston, founder and president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition and drafter of the legislation, told the Times, “Until now (the appointment of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court), there was no prospect of reversing Roe. … Why not go all the way?”
Lower courts will likely strike down Alabama’s statute because the current Supreme Court rulings “prohibit outright bans on abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb,” says Times reporter and former lawyer Adam Liptak. As a result, a Supreme Court-level argument could take a while, if it happens at all, Liptak said.
2. The U.S. remains solidly divided on the issue of abortion.
When asked whether they consider themselves pro-life or pro-choice, American adults are evenly divided at 48 percent each, according to a recent Gallup poll.
Additionally, Gallup finds a gap of 5 percentage points between men and women on support for legal abortion in all circumstances. Twenty percent of Americans said abortion should be illegal overall and 48 percent call it “morally wrong.”
Additionally, Pew reports the partisan divide on abortion at its widest in 20 years, with 59 percent of Republicans saying abortion should be illegal in all or most cases and 76 percent of Democrats saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
As for Alabama, the number of abortions in the state has fallen 46 percent since 2005, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, and represents 0.9 percent of all abortions in the United States, as reported by Guttmacher Institute.
3. Legislatures around the country are introducing stricter abortion laws.
With Justice Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment in October 2018, the newly majority-conservative bench encouraged many state legislatures to revisit abortion laws. “State legislators around the country are taking signals from Trump being in the White House and Kavanaugh being on the court,” Rachel Sussman, the national director of state policy and advocacy at Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told Vox.
Conservative activists and lawmakers have been transparent about their intentions to get their legislation in front of a more conservative Supreme Court. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said in reaction to current abortion law:
“It is clearer than ever that Roe (v. Wade) is far from being settled law in the eyes and hearts of the American people, and this is increasingly reflected in state legislatures. … The time is coming for the Supreme Court to let that debate go forward.”
Recent legislation such as Georgia’s “heartbeat bill,” Ohio’s ban on insurance coverage for abortions, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s signing of a bill earlier this year banning abortion after 18 weeks are a manifestation of this approach, as previously reported by the Deseret News.
4. The medical community is concerned about the impact of the new law on physicians and vulnerable populations.
Under the new law, Alabama doctors who perform abortions could face up to 99 years in prison.
Yashica Robinson, an Alabama-based OB-GYN and board member for Physicians for Reproductive Health, told USA Today that signing the Alabama bill into law would be a “grave mistake.”
“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,” Robinson said. “It is inappropriate for lawmakers to insert their own belief systems into complex, personal health decisions that could affect my daughter and the people I take care of in Alabama.”
Other opponents say the ban will pose a disproportionate health risk for poor and minority women, The New York Times reported, by driving abortion underground for those who can't afford to leave the state to get an abortion.
Alabama is ranked as the worst place in the U.S. to have a baby, the Birmingham Business Journal reports, ranking 51st overall for maternal and infant health care, 50th for infant mortality and 49th for preterm births and low birth weights.
Alabama is also the sixth poorest state in the U.S. with some 40 percent of the population of some counties at or below the poverty level, according to Alabama Possible.
5. Reactions to the law reflect polarized views about abortion in America.
Democratic presidential candidates reacted swiftly to the Alabama law, characterizing it as extreme. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called it “dangerous and exceptionally cruel,” while Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York labeled it a “war on women,” reports The New York Times.19 comments on this story
On the other side of the political spectrum, televangelist Pat Robertson, known for his anti-gay and anti-abortion stance, also condemned the law on "The 700 Club," saying it went too far, calling it “extreme” and stating "this is not the case we want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one will lose."
Others, such as Lila Rose, president and founder of anti-abortion news source Live Action, voiced support for the law. Rose tweeted that “our despair, our lack of imagination in the face of difficulty, our fear, our refusal to see the simple reality & dignity of a little boy or girl … at 21 days in the womb, is our greatest shame.”