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U.S. abortion rights activists vow to challenge landmark Alabama ban

Reuters | Wed, May 15, 2019 03:09 EDT

(Reuters) - U.S. abortion-rights activists vowed on Wednesday to challenge an Alabama bill that would ban abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, the latest attempt by conservatives to reverse a 1973 Supreme Court ruling establishing a woman's right to it.

The state's Republican governor, Kay Ivey, has a week to sign or veto the bill, which would be the nation's strictest anti-abortion law. She is a strong opponent of abortion but has so far withheld comment on whether she would sign the bill.

"The governor will thoroughly conduct a review before providing any additional comment," Ivey spokeswoman Lori Davis Jhons said in an email.

Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said her group would challenge the measure in court if it took effect.

"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 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 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.

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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. Senator Kamala Harris of California, one of the large field of hopefuls, said at a town hall on Wednesday morning in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Abortion rights campaigners said they would try to persuade Ivey to refuse to sign the measure. 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.

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 transcends other rights, an idea they would like tested at the 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.

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 embryonic cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks, before a woman may be aware she is pregnant.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Daniel Trotta in New York, additional reporting by Ginger Gibson in Washington, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019. Click For Restrictions - https://agency.reuters.com/en/copyright.html



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