MONTGOMERY, Ala. — As a crop duster with a banner saying “Abortion is okay” hummed above the capitol, circling back and forth around the governor’s mansion, a group of women below let out a cheer.
Amanda Reyes, who works with an abortion fund, was wearing an “I’m on the pill” T-shirt, complete with instructions printed on the back detailing how to get a medical abortion. She also looked skyward: “Here it comes again! That’s just the coolest thing.”
Hours after the Alabama Senate voted late Tuesday to ban abortions in almost all circumstances — including in cases of rape and incest — women’s rights activists and abortion rights advocates said the decision to approve the nation’s strictest abortion measure has energized them. Knowing that the bill was designed to challenge Roe v. Wade, they are gearing up for the fight.
Surrounded by posters and signs such as “This Clinic Stays Open,” Raven called the passage of Alabama’s restrictive bill “totally expected.”
“And totally blatantly unconstitutional,” she said Wednesday outside Reproductive Health Services, one of three clinics that perform abortions in Alabama. Raven has served as an escort to those seeking abortions here, and a hanger charm dangles from her necklace, displaying the instrument that in the past has been used for abortions that had to be done in secret. ““We are open for women who need abortions. We are fighting. We won’t stop.”
Conservatives and antiabortion activists also were prepared for a battle, celebrating the Alabama vote as a victory for their movement and a step toward a national legal reckoning over abortion. Though not demonstrating in the streets, Alabama’s antiabortion base — which recently helped define the state as pro-life at the ballot box — took solace in the fact that the state’s ban on abortion set a new restrictive standard.
“Being a conservative follower of Christ who is pro-life, who believes life begins at conception, this has been what we’ve been longing for,” said Alabama evangelist and minister Scott Dawson, who ran as a GOP candidate for governor in Alabama in 2018. “After years of talk and people campaigning on being pro-life, these Republican senators stood for that in last night’s debate.”
The Senate’s approval of the legislation in a party-line 25-to-6 vote Tuesday sent it to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk. A Republican who campaigned as an advocate of restrictions on abortion, Ivey has long supported antiabortion measures in Alabama.
Ivey signed the bill Wednesday, saying in a statement that the 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 she recognizes that the bill might be unenforceable because of Roe v. Wade, and she said that “we must always respect the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court even when we disagree with their decisions.” She said the sponsors of the 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.”
Staci Fox, president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the group has vowed to fight the “dangerous abortion ban” at every step and plans to sue the state.
“We haven’t lost a case in Alabama yet and we don’t plan to start now,” Fox said. “We will see Governor Ivey in court. In the meantime, abortion is still safe, legal, and available in the state of Alabama and we plan to keep it that way.”
The bill passed easily after more than four hours of debate. The chamber’s small group of Democrats spoke emotionally on the Senate floor, decrying a bill they said would force crime victims who suffer rapes and incest to give birth to babies that are the progeny of their attackers.
The GOP-dominated Senate voted down an amendment that would have added exceptions for rape and incest — although four Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the amendment, some of whom had said they were having trouble with the idea of an absolute ban on abortion.
The only exceptions in the bill are in cases when the health of the mother is at risk and if the fetus has a “fatal anomaly” that would cause it to die soon after birth.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Terri Collins, said it is intended to serve as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. She said she hopes the bill will establish that personhood begins at conception.
Dawson said those who support restrictions on abortion — even in the case of a woman impregnated by rape or incest — believe the unborn fetus’s rights must be taken into account, and this bill is the first step to get to that goal.
Eric Johnston, founder of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, has been working to make abortion illegal for decades, and he drafted the current measure, aiming for a Supreme Court that he believes will rule against abortion.
“Last year, we decided this is probably the time. The time seems right and the circumstances seemed right,” Johnston said, noting that he believes federal precedent on abortion is “fraudulent and improper. Now everyone can see the humanity of the child.”
He said Wednesday that the bill needed to pass in its pure form, with almost no allowed exceptions, or else it wouldn’t send the right message. Johnston said he and other antiabortion activists spent the weekend calling legislators to shore up the vote against an amendment that would have added those exceptions.
“If this exception was added to the bill, it would have killed the bill,” Johnston said. “Whether you were raped or a victim of incest or get pregnant by consent or accident or even artificial insemination, it’s still a person. We could not argue to the court with a straight face that it’s a person in one instance but not in another.”
Though abortion rights advocates were disappointed in the Senate passing the measure, they said the move galvanized their movement, and they believe it will draw more public support for abortion rights.
Raven, the founder of POWER, spent Wednesday pushing the message on social media and to patients that “we are still here and not going anywhere.” Her bungalow, POWER House, sits next door to the women’s health clinic in Montgomery, housing women overnight who come here from Alabama’s rural areas. Volunteers work with the women to help them understand their rights, available services, and to help them become advocates.
“And we do it in red-state Alabama,” she said, adding that the governor’s mansion is just blocks away. “This is what we have been doing for decades. And we want the women of Alabama to know we are here for them.”
Brownlee is a freelance reporter based in Alabama.