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Alabama Senate delays vote on nation’s strictest abortion bill

Alabama’s Senate postponed a vote on a controversial abortion bill on May 9 after Democrats shouted demands for a roll-call vote. (Video: Alabama Senate)

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Alabama Senate had voted to pass the nation’s strictest abortion bill.

After a shouting match broke out, the Alabama Senate on Thursday abruptly delayed a vote on a bill that would outlaw most abortions in the state and make performing the procedure a felony punishable by up to 99 years imprisonment.

The tumult and yelling on the Senate floor began when some Republicans attempted to remove amendments that would have allowed women to get abortions in cases of rape or incest.

The decision was made by a voice vote, angering Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton and other Democrats who were seeking a roll-call vote on all issues related to the abortion bill. A voice vote, Democrats argued, gave cover to Republicans unwilling to put their names on an amendment that would ban abortions even for women who were raped.

Singleton said he wanted a roll-call vote because of the importance of the issue.

“I want the people of the state of Alabama to know how we vote,” he said. “I think the people have a right.”

They accused Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, a Republican who presides over the Senate, of being too quick to move forward with the voice vote and steamroll over their concerns.

“I know this bill is going to pass. You’re going to get your way,” Democratic Sen. Vivian Davis Figures said after the shouting died down on the Senate floor. “At least treat us fairly and do it the right way. That’s all that I ask. That’s all that my Democratic colleagues ask. That’s all that women in this state ask, both Democratic and Republican women.”

As the commotion escalated, Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh (R) moved to delay the vote on the amendment to the abortion bill until next week.

Marsh said debate would reopen on Tuesday, asking senators to “set the reset button” on the bill by taking the weekend to think about it.

“Let people go home, talk to their constituents and come back,” Marsh said, absolving Ainsworth of blame for a fast-moving gavel.

“I believe the lieutenant governor followed procedure,” Marsh said. “I think that people maybe had their guard down a little bit, maybe didn’t expect a voice vote.”

The bill, which is expected to be passed by the conservative majority, would be the most restrictive in the country and would impose a near-total ban on abortion.

Alabama is among more than two dozen states that have sought to impose new restrictions on abortion this year. Georgia on Tuesday became the sixth state to impose a ban on abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy.

Alabama Rep. Terri Collins (R), who sponsored the bill, said its purpose is to spark litigation that would force the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion.

Under the Alabama legislation, doctors would not be able to perform abortions once a fetus is “in utero.”

The version that passed in the House allowed for only a single exception, in cases involving a serious health risk “to the unborn child’s mother.” An amendment added in the Senate would also provide for exceptions in the case of rape or incest. That amendment was at the heart of the fierce debate Thursday.

Gov. Kay Ivey (R), who has described herself as antiabortion, is expected to sign the bill into law, although she has declined to comment directly on the legislation until it is finalized.

Staci Fox, president of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, said in a statement that the confusion broke out on the Senate floor “because Alabama lawmakers have been faced with the real and dangerous implications of this bill.”

“I hope they take this opportunity to think critically about what this bill means for the women of this state and why women and doctors should be making these personal, private health-care decisions — not politicians,” she added.

Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who is shepherding the bill through the Senate, said in a statement to The Post that the measure “recognizes that an unborn child is a person, and therefore deserves the full protection of the law.” Despite the spirited debate on Thursday, he said, “ultimately, HB314 is going to pass, and Alabama is going to lead the nation in protecting the sanctity of life. Planned Parenthood can try to derail the bill, as they did in spending over a million dollars to unsuccessfully oppose a pro-life ballot measure last fall in Alabama. But the outcome will be the same: Alabamians will stand on the side of life.”

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