MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama's Republican governor signed the most stringent abortion legislation in the nation Wednesday, making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases.
"To the bill's many supporters, this 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," Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.
The bill's sponsors want to give conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to gut abortion rights nationwide, but Democrats and abortion rights advocates criticized the bill as a slap in the face to women voters.
"It just completely disregards women and the value of women and their voice. We have once again silenced women on a very personal issue," said Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, a Birmingham Democrat.
Coleman-Madison said she hopes the measure awakens a "sleeping giant" of women voters in the state.
But Republican pollster Chris Kratzer noted that there is no congressional district and likely no legislative district with enough swing voters to put Republicans at serious risk in the state.
"The people who are outraged about this are not the people who are electing these guys, generally speaking, especially when we're talking about the primary," he said.
Further, Kratzer argued, there aren't enough potential swing voters and disenchanted Republicans to make the issue any kind of advantage for the lone Democrat elected to statewide office, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, who scored a surprise win in a 2017 special election.
Jones upset Republican Roy Moore in part on the strength of GOP-leaning college graduates abandoning the controversial Moore. But Kratzer said that was more about Moore's long history of flouting federal courts as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and accusations that Moore sexually harassed teens when he was in his 30s — not Moore's hardline stance on abortion.
The legislation Alabama senators passed Tuesday would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by 10 to 99 years or life in prison for the provider. The only exception would be when the woman's health is at serious risk. Women seeking or undergoing abortions wouldn't be punished.
Rep. Terri Collins, the bill's sponsor, said she believes the measure reflects the beliefs of the majority of the state electorate.
"I've heard from lots of women in the state who are extremely pro-life, and they're very supportive," Collins said.
Ivey acknowledged Wednesday that the measure may be unenforceable in the short term. The law is set to go into effect six months after being signed, but supporters expect it to be blocked by lower courts as they fight toward the Supreme Court.
"The sponsors of this 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," Ivey said.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia recently have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. The Alabama bill goes further by seeking to ban abortion outright.
Abortion rights advocates vowed swift legal action.
"We vowed to fight this dangerous abortion ban every step of the way and we meant what we said. We haven't lost a case in Alabama yet and we don't plan to start now. We will see Governor Ivey in court," said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast.
Evangelist Pat Robertson on his television show Wednesday said the Alabama law is "extreme" and opined it may not be the best one to bring to the U.S. Supreme Court "because I think this one will lose."
"God bless them they are trying to do something but I don't think that's the case that I'd want to bring to the Supreme Court," Robertson said.
One mile (1.6 kilometers) from the Alabama Statehouse — down the street from the Governor's Mansion — sits Montgomery's only abortion clinic, one of three performing abortions in the state. Because of its location, the clinic sees a stream of patients from Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle because other clinics have closed.
Clinic staff on Wednesday fielded calls from patients, and potential patients, wrongly worried that abortion was now illegal in the state. They were assured abortion remained legal in the state.
"It's been a lot of fear. A lot of people who are afraid they can't get their procedure," said Kari Crowe, a clinic employee and escort.
"Abortion is OK!" read a banner paid for by abortion rights advocates that a plane carried as it circled the Alabama Capitol and Statehouse on Wednesday.