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Alabama governor signs bill, banning virtually all abortions, into law

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday signed a bill to ban virtually all abortions in the state, even in cases of rape and incest, in the latest bid by political conservatives challenging the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.

U.S. abortion-rights activists vow court battle

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that virtually outlaws abortion in the state on Wednesday. (Hal Yeager/Alabama Governor's Office via Associated Press)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday signed a bill to ban virtually all abortions in the state, even in cases of rape and incest, in the latest bid by political conservatives challenging the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.

U.S. abortion-rights activists had already vowed to go court to block enforcement of the Alabama measure, which ranks as the nation's strictest anti-abortion law.

The decision by Ivey, a Republican who opposes abortion, came a day after the Republican-controlled state Senate approved the abortion ban.

"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. "To all Alabamians, I assure you that we will continue to follow the rule of law."

As passed, the law would take effect in six months. Legislation to restrict abortion rights has been introduced this year in 16 states, four of whose governors have signed bills banning abortion if an embryonic heartbeat can be detected.

Planned Parenthood joined the American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday in filing a legal challenge to Ohio's recent and similar ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The Alabama bill goes further, banning abortions at any time, unless the mother's health is in danger. Those performing abortions would be committing a felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. A woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable.

The state Senate defeated a Democratic amendment that would have allowed abortions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Democrats blast move

Most of the Democratic candidates seeking their party's 2020 nomination to run for the White House condemned the Alabama law, calling it an attack on women's rights and vowing to fight to uphold legal access to abortion.

"The idea that supposed leaders have passed a law that would criminalize a physician for assisting a woman on something that she, in consult with her physician, with her God, with her faith leader, has made the decision to do, that is her body that you would criminalize," U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, one of the large field of hopefuls, said at a town hall on Wednesday morning in Nashua, N.H.

Some on Twitter had called on their allies to mail coat hangers to Ivey, as a reminder of abortion practices before it was made legal.

Bianca Cameron-Schwiesow, from left, Kari Crowe and Margeaux Hardline, dressed as handmaids, take part in a protest against the abortion ban bill, last month at the Alabama State House in Montgomery, Ala. (Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser/AP)

Anti-abortion advocates know any laws they pass are certain to be challenged. Courts this year have blocked a restrictive Kentucky law and another in Iowa passed last year.

But supporters of the Alabama ban said the right to life of the fetus transcended other rights, an idea they would like tested at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court, now with a majority of conservative justices after Republican President Donald Trump appointed two, could possibly overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a woman's right to abortion in the U.S. 

Roe vs. Wade did allow states to place restrictions on the procedure from the time a fetus could viably survive outside the womb, except in cases in which a woman's health was otherwise at risk. A fetus is generally considered viable at 22 to 24 weeks. A full-term pregnancy typically is about 40 weeks.

Just this year, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio enacted statutes outlawing abortion after a doctor can detect an embryonic heartbeat.

Opponents call the "heartbeat" legislation a virtual ban because embryonic cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks, before a woman may even be aware she is pregnant.