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House passes bill to criminalize abortions

The Alabama House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to outlaw almost all abortions in the state as conservatives take aim at the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives voted 74-3 for legislation that would make it a felony to perform an abortion on a woman at any stage of her pregnancy. The proposal passed after Democrats walked out of the chamber after sometimes emotional debate with opponents and supporters crowding the gallery. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate.

Rep. Wes Allen, R-Pike, said he is proud to have supported the bill. “There is nothing more important that we could be voting on than protecting the human rights of the unborn,” Allen said.

Supporters said the bill is intentionally designed to conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide, hoping to spark court cases that might prompt the justices to revisit Roe. The bill contains an exemption for those situations when there is a serious risk to the mother’s health, but not for rape and incest.

“The heart of this bill is to confront a decision that was made by the courts in 1973 that said the baby in a womb is not a person,” said Republican Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur.

Republicans in the chamber applauded after the bill was approved after more than two hours of sometimes emotional debate. Collins acknowledged that such a ban would likely be struck down by lower courts, but she said the aim is eventually to get to the Supreme Court.

Without the numbers to stop the bill, Democrats walked off the House floor ahead of the vote, calling the proposal both extreme and fiscally irresponsible. They said the ban would cost the state money for a potentially expensive legal fight that could be spent on other needs.

Rep. Louise Alexander, a Democrat, said the choice to give birth to a child should be left up to a woman, and the decision should not be made on the floor of the Alabama Legislature.

“You don’t know why I may want to have an abortion. It may be because of my health. It may be because of many reasons. Until all of you in this room walk in a woman’s shoes, y’all don’t know,” Alexander said.

Emboldened by new conservatives on the Supreme Court, abortion opponents in several states are seeking to incite new legal fights in the hopes of challenging Roe v. Wade. The Alabama bill comes on the heels of several states considering or approving bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which occurs in about the sixth week of pregnancy.

The Alabama bill attempts to go farther by banning abortion at any stage of pregnancy.

House Republicans voted down Democrats’ attempt to amend the bill to add an exemption for rape and incest. Representatives voted 72-26 to table the proposed amendment.

“They would not even allow an exception for rape and incest … What does that say to the women in this state,” said House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels.

Collins argued that adding exemptions would weaken the intent of the bill as a vehicle to challenge Roe. She said if states regain the ability to decide abortion access, Alabama lawmakers could come back and decide what exemptions to allow.

The bill drew a crowd of opponents and supporters to the House gallery. A group of abortion clinic escorts wore their rainbow-colored vests in the House gallery. One woman was removed after attempting to write DUMB on a glass window overlooking the House chamber.

Rep. Rolanda Hollis, a Birmingham Democrat, read a poem that criticized Republicans’ embrace of gun rights but not abortion rights, and later referred to the state as “Ala-Backwards.”

The ACLU said the bill’s passage is an affront to women’s liberty over private medical decisions and an unconstitutional bill that will cause legal expenses that will be footed by Alabama taxpayers.

“We are disappointed that the Alabama House passed HB314 despite the fact it would criminalize abortion and interfere with a woman’s personal, private medical decisions,” said a statement released by the ACLU Tuesday. “It is unfortunate that members of the House are putting their personal beliefs ahead of what’s in the best interest of our state. The people of Alabama are paying the bill for unconstitutional legislation and we hope that the Senate members will realize its detrimental impact and stop this bill from becoming law. Otherwise it will be challenged in federal court.”

The text of the Alabama bill likens legalized abortion to history’s greatest atrocities, including the Holocaust.

Republican Rep. Rich Wingo, a supporter of the bill, read statistics that estimate that there have been 60 million abortions since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision.

“It’s time that the state of Alabama leads for once. Let’s lead and do the right thing,” Wingo said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.