Alabama governor Kay Ivey has signed the US’ strictest abortion law into effect, criminalizing the procedure even in cases of rape or incest and slapping abortion providers with a possible life sentence.
The measure outlaws all abortions except in cases where the mother’s life is at stake, declaring the procedure a class-A felony punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison. Even attempting an abortion carries a sentence of 1 to 10 years. Ivey signed the bill on Wednesday, capping off an acrimonious battle in the state legislature that culminated in Tuesday’s passage of the bill 25 to 6.
“To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God,” Ivey said in a statement after signing the bill. “To all Alabamians, I assure you that we will continue to follow the rule of law.”
Supporters are actually hoping the new law will be challenged in court. Drafted as a sneak attack on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion across the US, a challenge to the law could result in Roe being overturned, if it is appealed up to the Supreme Court.
Critics argue the bill is flagrantly unconstitutional. Even the strictest of the anti-abortion bills passed in other states in recent years have had exceptions for rape or incest; such an amendment was proposed in the Senate, only to be rejected in a vote split along party lines.
Ivey acknowledged the law could be “unenforceable,” but echoed its backers’ concerns. “Many Americans, myself included, disagreed when Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973. The sponsors of this bill believe that it is time, once again, for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit this important matter, and they believe this act may bring about the best opportunity for this to occur.”
If unchallenged, the law will take effect in six months. The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have promised to file a lawsuit to prevent that, vowing that “abortion will remain a safe, legal, medical procedure at all clinics in Alabama.” The ACLU won a suit against the state in 2016, striking down a 2013 law that required doctors providing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges on the grounds that it unconstitutionally restricted access to the procedure.