Alabama senator files legislation to loosen state abortion restrictions

One bill would repeal 2019 ban; one would add exceptions for rape and incest

By: - March 10, 2023 1:27 pm
A woman smiling and looking up.

Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, smiles at the Alabama Senate gallery on March 7, 2023. Legislators gathered Tuesday for the first day of the Alabama Legislature’s 2023 regular session. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

A Democratic senator has filed two bills targeting Alabama’s near-total ban on abortion.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, is one of several attempts by Democrats in the Alabama Legislature to peel back the 2019 law, which bans abortions in almost all cases not involving medical emergencies. It is likely to face difficulties in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

Attempts to reach Figures for comment were unsuccessful. A message seeking comment was left with Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, the chair of the Senate Healthcare Committee.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said in an interview this week that he had not reviewed the legislation. 

One bill would allow abortions in cases of rape or incest. The second, sponsored by nearly every member of the Senate Democratic Caucus, would repeal the 2019 law entirely. 

That statute, which went into effect last year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal abortion protections in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, makes it a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison, to perform an abortion. The law makes it a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to attempt to perform an abortion. 

The 2019 law prevents women who have an abortion from criminal prosecution or civil liability. But there have been attempts to find pregnant people seeking abortions guilty under other laws in recent months.

Robin Marty, operations director of the West Alabama Women’s Center, said that the exceptions outlined by the bill would not do much in reality. She said that, as the bill is written, it’s unclear how many providers need to sign off on the exception, and she’s not sure how many weeks an abortion can be provided.

“Exceptions do not work in real world situations,” she said.

Marty also said that sexual assault victims sought abortions in Alabama. Under Alabama law, all of those patients would be victims of sexual assault as 14 is below the age of consent.  According to Data provided by the Alabama Department of Public Health, shows that 22 girls aged 10 to 14 received an abortion in 2021, before the ban went into effect.

“If abortion is something that is legal and is offered to people under one circumstance, it should be under any circumstance, because every abortion is something that can save a person from potentially dying in pregnancy,” she said.

25 perpetrators out of 1,000 sexual assaults will walk free, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Only around 30% of sexual assaults are reported to police. Over 10% of those who did not report the assault said it was because they did not believe that police would help and 20% feared retaliation.

In the House, Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, has introduced a bill to repeal a pre-Roe abortion ban that abortion rights supporters believe could be used to prosecute Alabama women who have abortions. Rep. Brett Yarbough, R-Trinity, says he plans to file what he calls an “abortion-as-murder” bill; a group that announced the proposal appears to be targetingthe 2019 law’s ban on prosecuting or suing women who have abortions

The Alabama Legislature’s regular session will resume on March 21. Gov. Kay Ivey Wednesday called a special session to allocate about $1 billion in federal COVID relief money.

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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.