Alabama's Governor has signed the most restrictive abortion law in the United States - making it a crime to perform abortions even in cases of incest or rape.
Alabama's Republican Governor Kay Ivey has signed the most restrictive abortion law in the United States, providing for a near-total prohibition, even in cases of rape and incest.
Under the new measure, expected to come into effect in six months, performing an abortion is a crime that could land doctors in prison for up to 99 years.
"Today, I signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, a bill that was approved by overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Legislature," said Ms Ivey in a statement.
"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," she said.
Abortions would only be legal if the life of the mother is in danger or the fetus has a fatal condition.
US abortion-rights activists have vowed to challenge the ban on abortions, which is the latest move by conservatives to reverse a 1973 Supreme Court ruling establishing a woman’s right to it.
Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said her group would challenge the measure in court.
“We have no choice. For us, this is about our patients’ lives,” Wen told reporters on a conference call.
“We have to file lawsuits. We are talking about the rights for generations to come.”
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 ban on abortions after six weeks.
The Alabama law 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 10 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 legal abortions for women and girls impregnated by rape or incest.
Democrats blast the 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 criminalise,” US Senator Kamala Harris of California, one of the large field of hopefuls, said at a town hall on Wednesday morning in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Some on Twitter called on their allies to mail coat hangers to Ivey, as a reminder of the illegal abortion practices common before it was made legal.
What do the supporters say?
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.
The high court, now with a majority of conservative justices after Republican President Donald Trump appointed two, could possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision establishing a woman’s right to an abortion.
"No matter one's personal view on abortion, we can all recognize that, at least for the short term, this bill may similarly be unenforceable," Ms Ivey wrote in her statement.
"As citizens of this great country, we must always respect the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court even when we disagree with their decisions.
"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, she said.
Just this year, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have outlawed abortion after a doctor can detect an embryonic heartbeat.
Opponents call the “heartbeat” legislation a virtual ban because the embryonic cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks, before a woman may be aware she is pregnant.