By Mike Cason
Alabama lawmakers aiming to challenge abortion rights nationally are one step from their goal of putting an almost total ban on the procedure into state law.
The Senate tonight voted 25-6 to pass a bill to make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion. The bill is a priority for the Legislature's Republican majority. Tonight's vote sends it to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who could sign it into law.
Lori Jhons, Ivey's deputy press secretary, said in an email tonight that Ivey would not comment on the bill until she's had a chance to thoroughly review it.
The bill passed exactly as it was introduced by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, about six weeks ago. It includes only one exception -- to allow abortions in cases of a serious health risk to the woman. The goal is to trigger a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade.
"I would say that we're all very pleased to have this done," Collins said at a press conference after the vote. "We're excited about the possibilities that it could mean. It's been difficult at times, and then at times it's been really good. I felt really good about it all the way through."
Under the bill, a woman receiving an abortion would not be criminally liable. The doctor would be charged with a Class A felony, punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison.
The bill passed the Senate on party lines after four and a half hours of debate, with all the Republicans who were present voting for it. No Democrats voted for the bill.
With Republicans holding 27 of 35 Senate seats, passage of the bill was not in doubt. A key question was whether the Senate would add an amendment to allow abortions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, who handled the bill in the Senate, urged his colleagues to reject the amendment, saying that all unborn children deserve protection.
Four Republicans sided with the Democrats in voting for the rape and incest exception, but it failed 21-11.
Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, who proposed the rape and incest amendment, said it was disgraceful to leave out the exception.
"You just raped every woman who's been raped by a man," Singleton said, his voice rising with emotion. "You just raped her all over again."
Singleton said three rape victims were in the Senate gallery as his guests and talked about the hardships they went through.
"This is just a shame, this is a disgrace, this is a travesty," he said.
Collins said her goal was to pass the bill in a form she thought would serve as the strongest challenge to Roe v. Wade. She said states could later decide what exceptions to allow if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. She said she would support a rape and incest exception if that happens.
"I've answered many emails from people who have poured out their hearts with real stories that were true," Collins said. "My goal with this bill is not to hurt them in any way. My goal with this bill, and I think all of our goal, is to have Roe vs. Wade turned over, and that decision be sent back to the states so that we can come up with our laws that address and include amendments and things that address those issues."
About an hour after Republican senators voted down the rape and incest amendment, they voted to cut off the debate and force a vote on the bill.
Chambliss, asked about the legal costs the state would incur if the bill becomes law and is challenged in court, as the sponsors intend, said it would be money well spent.
"Life is a gift of our creator and we must do everything that we can to protect life," Chambliss said. "And if it is a couple of million dollars, that is a small, small price for those lives."
Voting for the bill were Republican Sens. Greg Albritton of Atmore; Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa; Will Barfoot of Montgomery; Tom Butler of Madison; Chambliss; Donnie Chesteen of Geneva; Chris Elliott of Fairhope; Sam Givhan of Huntsville; Garlan Gudger of Cullman; Andrew Jones of Centre; Steve Livingston of Trussville; Del Marsh of Anniston; Jim McClendon of Springville; Tim Melson of Florence; Arthur Orr of Decatur; Randy Price of Opelika; Greg Reed of Jasper; Dan Roberts of Birmingham; Clay Scofield of Guntersville; David Sessions of Mobile; Shay Shelnutt of Trussville; Larry Stutts of Sheffield; Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills; Cam Ward of Alabaster; and Jack Williams of Wilmer.
Voting against the bill were Democratic Sens. Billy Beasley of Clayton; David Burkette of Montgomery; Linda Coleman-Madison of Birmingham; Vivian Figures of Mobile; Singleton; and Rodger Smitherman of Birmingham. Malika Sanders-Fortier, D-Selma, abstained.
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