By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – Alabama’s state Senate was due to vote on a bill on Tuesday that would outlaw nearly all abortions, but will first consider whether to allow the procedure for women and girls impregnated by rape and incest.
Debate on the strictest anti-abortion bill in the United States was set to begin in the Republican-controlled chamber at 4 p.m. CDT (2100 GMT). It would be the latest in a procession of anti-abortion bills across the country that activists are hoping will result in the issue going before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The bill previously passed the Republican-dominated Alabama House of Representatives. Republican Governor Kay Ivey has withheld comment on whether she would sign it but generally is a strong opponent of abortion.
The Alabama debate follows passage of anti-abortion laws in states that border it to the east and west, Georgia and Mississippi, creating what abortion rights advocates have warned would be a large “abortion desert.”
Legislation to restrict abortion rights has been introduced in 16 states this year, four of whose governors have signed bills banning abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion rights.
Opponents called that legislation a virtual ban because fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks, before a woman may be aware she is pregnant.
The Alabama bill goes further, banning all abortions except to prevent serious health risk to the mother. People who perform abortions would be subject to a Class A felony, punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison. A woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable.
A Senate committee added an amendment that would create exceptions for cases of rape and incest, but the matter stalled on the Senate floor.
Debate will resume without the rape and incest amendment attached.
Anti-abortion advocates know any laws they pass are certain to be challenged in court, but they are hoping the matter will land before 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 v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision establishing a woman’s right to an abortion.
Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio have outlawed abortion after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat.
Courts have blocked the Iowa and Kentucky laws, and the others face legal challenges.
Actress and activist Alyssa Milano has called for a sex strike under the social media hashtag #SexStrike in response to the campaigns against abortion rights, urging women to refuse sex with men “until we get bodily autonomy back.”
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)