Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law Wednesday a near-total ban on abortions in her state.
'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,'' the Republican governor said in a statement.
Lawmakers in the southeastern U.S. state had passed the legislation Tuesday, sparking a legal fight over a measure that becomes the nation's most stringent abortion law.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America vowed Wednesday to challenge the legislation in court. 'We have no choice,' said President Leana Wen. 'We are talking about the rights for generations to come.'
The Republican-dominated Senate voted 25-6 to make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for the abortion provider, although women seeking or undergoing an abortion would not be punished. The only exception would be when the woman's health is at serious risk.
Senators rejected an attempt to add an exception for rape and incest.
Supporters said the bill was designed to spark litigation that could lead to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
'Roe v. Wade has ended the lives of millions of children,' said Alabama Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss. 'This bill has the opportunity to save the lives of millions of unborn children.'
Action by other states
Emboldened by the Supreme Court's new conservative justices, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. And abortion opponents in several other states are seeking to challenge abortion access.
'This is a plan by the Republican Party, make no mistake, to overturn Roe v. Wade and turn back the clock on women's reproductive civil and human rights,' U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democratic presidential candidate, said in an interview Wednesday on CNN.
Another Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, said the current law should not be declared unconstitutional.
'Roe v. Wade is settled law and should not be overturned,' Biden said. 'The choice should remain between a woman and her doctor.'
A Pew Research Center poll conducted late last year found that 58 percent of those surveyed said abortion should be legal in almost all cases while 37 percent said it should be unlawful.