Under an Alabama bill that was just sent to the governor’s desk, doctors who perform abortions will be the same in the eyes of the law as rapists and murderers.
The most restrictive abortion law in the nation, it outlaws nearly all instances of the procedure, except when it is necessary to prevent a “serious health risk” to the mother or if the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly.”
Any physician who is convicted of performing an abortion in the state would be a Class A felon — the highest level in Alabama.
The minimum sentence for a Class A felony is 10 years, but it can go as high as 99 years in prison or life. The exception is capital murder, which carries an automatic life sentence.
These are some of the other crimes that are categorized as Class A felonies in Alabama:
- First-degree murder or capital murder (murder that is willful and premeditated)
- First-degree kidnapping (kidnapping with intent to hold for ransom, use as hostage or shield, inflict physical injury, terrorize a third party or interfere with government function)
- First-degree rape (engaging in sexual intercourse with someone who is incapable of consent)
- First-degree domestic violence (committing first-degree assault or aggravated stalking with someone in a special relationship)
- First-degree burglary (knowingly entering a dwelling with a deadly weapon or causing physical harm to someone who is not participating in the crime)
- First-degree arson (intentionally starting a fire in an occupied building)
In addition, under the new law doctors in Alabama who attempt to perform an abortion would face being charged with a Class C felony, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Class C felonies in Alabama include criminally negligent homicide, custody interference and criminal tampering.
But doctors likely won’t get life sentences
The legislature has put abortion in the same arena with “very heinous crimes,” Alabama attorney Victor Revill said. However, Revill says the chances of a doctor actually receiving 99 years for performing an abortion is “highly unlikely.”
“This ban is unconstitutional,” Revill said. “Right now the state legislature has passed law that is contrary to US Supreme Court precedent. I can’t see any judge giving a person 99 years (for performing an abortion).”
Alabama’s Republican lawmakers are hoping their new law will be appealed to the Supreme Court and spur justices to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case, which legalized abortion in 1973.
Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have said they will challenge the Alabama bill in court. As the bill is litigated, doctors in the state will likely be scared to perform abortions, Revill said.
Alabama joins other states’ crackdown on abortion rights
Other states have also enacted controversial laws to restrict abortion. In recent months, Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio passed “heartbeat bills” prohibiting abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks.
In Ohio, doctors convicted of performing an abortion after detecting a fetal heartbeat would face up to a year in prison. In Mississippi, they’d face up to six months.
While the Alabama bill is much stricter, it does not penalize women who get an abortion.
Nearly one in four women in the US will have had an abortion by age 45, according to sexual and reproductive health research group Guttmacher Institute. However, it’s been increasingly difficult to obtain an abortion in Alabama. There are only three abortion clinics left in the state, down from about 20 in the 1990s.