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Former Washington Journalist
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A new law enacted this week by Alabama Republicans amounts to a statewide ban on abortion has thrown the matter into the national spotlight and the 2020 presidential race.
The new Alabama law contains no exceptions for rape or incest and allows for prison terms up to 99 years for performing the procedure.
Alabama’s is simply the most stringent of a number of Republican-dominated states enacting or considering new abortion limits.
These state laws, such as the one in Alabama, have risen to national prominence because they are expected to go before the US Supreme Court, and conservatives are convinced that the high court’s new solid right-leaning majority can use one or more to strike down the right to abortion nationally.
“Yes. I mean, this law was clearly designed with an eye towards moving it up through higher courts, getting the Supreme Court to ultimately have to rule on both the constitutionality of what’s in this particular law, as well as access to abortion more generally,” The Washington Post‘s Catherine Rampell said of the new Alabama statute. “And even if the Alabama law itself doesn’t get upheld in its entirety, you could imagine that a number of the justices who have exposed themselves as being amenable to both overturning precedent and rolling back abortion protections, would use it, potentially, as a vehicle to roll back some of those protections.”
This possibility has attracted the attention of several of the Democrats running for president.
“Well, we have to shine a light on this issue. We have to raise up voices of the women who will be affected by this draconian and inhumane policy,” said candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). “And make no mistake, this is a nationwide attack on women’s reproductive freedom, on their basic civil rights and basic human rights.
“Over 29 states in this year alone are attacking women’s constitutional rights and we have to fight,” she added. “We have to fight now harder than we have ever fought before. So I’m traveling to Georgia tomorrow to talk about the law that has just passed there, to lift those voices up of the women who are deeply affected and to make sure that America understands that this is going to be a fight for something that is so important and personal to every woman, that decision to make these kinds of life or death intimate decisions about our families and our bodies.”
These abortion restrictions generally fly in the face of public opinion. A Washington Post/ABC News poll last year found, for instance, the first surge in Americans saying abortions should be easier–not more difficult–to obtain.
“I think we have an obligation to just think very fundamentally: Does a woman have the right to control her body or do politicians have to dictate to her? Do you know how extreme this is? It says in the cases of rape and incest, that a woman, it is still illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion. So this is outrageous,” said Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, another Democratic presidential hopeful. “It is an assault on human rights, human dignity, freedom to control your body, which has been a fight going on from the founding of this country. And I cannot in any way sit comfortably while this is going on. And this is a time in American history that mandates all of us to stand up and get involved in this fight.”
Yet one other Democrat running for president, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, blames Donald Trump’s effort to pack the Supreme Court with strict conservative nominees for the current situation.
“The Alabama bill comes on the heels of restrictive abortion bills in Georgia and in Ohio. All three bills would ban abortions for most women before they even know that they are pregnant,” Warren said. “No exception for rape. No exception for incest. And in the Alabama bill, doctors could get 99 years in prison for performing abortions. That could be longer than a rapist when he impregnates a woman and she would be forced under that bill to carry that baby to term.
“Republican men are on the march to overturn Roe v. Wade, and with Donald Trump stacking the courts in favor of judges who are opposed to abortion, that could be a real possibility,” she added. “Women across this country are scared. Women are angry. If you support women, now is the time to make that known.”
But perhaps surprisingly, long-time televangelist Pat Robertson–long a conservative and an abortion opponent–believes that the Alabama law may be too extreme, and as a test case at the Supreme Court, could backfire.
“I think Alabama has gone too far. They’ve passed a law that would give a 99-year prison sentence to people who commit abortion? There’s no exception for rape or incest. It’s an extreme law,” said Robertson. “They want to challenge Roe v. Wade, but my humble view is that this is not the case we want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one will lose.”