The abortion ban approved Tuesday night by the Alabama Senate and signed into law Wednesday by Republican Governor Kay Ivey is more than just the most restrictive legislation passed by any state in the 46 years since the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide.
It is also the opening of a new front in the abortion wars, and the clearest statement yet that the tsunami of state abortion restrictions introduced this year is less about actually enforcing those particular restrictions than about giving the justices an opportunity to reverse the 1973 ruling.
“It’s like a racehorse in the Kentucky Derby — blinders on all side,” said Democratic Sen. Rodger Smitherman shortly after he voted against the bill, which would ban all abortions for any reason and carry prison sentences of 99 years to life for doctors who perform them. “They just keep on this Roe v. Wade thing.”
In the hours before last night’s 25-6 vote, a proposed amendment that would have allowed abortion in the case of rape or incest was voted down, 21-11, with four Republicans joining the few Democrats in the body. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Terri Collins, explained that while she is sympathetic to rape and incest survivors, many of whom filled the gallery, “if that amendment was to get on the bill then … it won’t go to the Supreme Court,” adding that there would be time for such amendments after the court returns the right to decide abortion law to the states.
In other words, it was a bill crafted not to govern, but to provoke a case that could reach the high court, the latest of a series of state laws with that purpose, the culmination of a strategy that has been employed since shortly after Roe was decided, but which has gained new impetus with a conservative majority on the court.
The result is a multi-tiered conversation — one about abortion rights, one about abortion politics and one about legal strategy.