Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill into law that bans abortion in almost all circumstances, including in cases of rape and incest, with the exception of when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. Under the bill, set to take effect in six months, doctors who perform abortions can be punished with life in prison.
The law, which passed 25-6 in the Senate on Tuesday, is an attempt to challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion, according to Gov. Ivey.
“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. Ivey said, according to CNN.
Alabama is one of seven US states that have passed bills to restrict abortion, but it is the first to pass such a strict ban.
Alabama consistently ranks as one of the poorest US states, where over 800,000 people lived below the poverty line in 2018. The UN also reported that Alabama has the worst poverty in the developed world.
Low-income women have the highest rates of unintended pregnancies, Kim Weeden, professor and chair of Cornell University’s department of sociology, told Global Citizen.
“Bans on legal abortion that force women to bring these unintended pregnancies to term will lead to more illegal abortions,” Weeden said, “which can have long-term and costly health consequences for the women who get them.”
Low-income women in Alabama do not have the option that wealthier women have to travel out of state to receive abortions, which can have serious health implications. When governments restrict abortions, people still seek the procedure and resort to unsafe abortions, the third-leading cause of maternal deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions every year.
For low-income women, denial of abortion can lead directly to economic hardship as well.
According to a 2018 University of California, San Francisco, report, women who want an abortion but are denied one are more likely to spend years living in poverty than women who have abortions.
Professor Diana Greene Foster, who led the report, told Reuters that the most common reason women cite for seeking abortions is that they can’t afford to raise a child. The team of researchers found that carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term quadrupled the odds that a new mother and her child would live below the federal poverty line.
Weeden added that the new bill won’t just affect women in Alabama, where more than a quarter of children live in poverty.
“They [abortion bans] will also push more women and their children below the poverty line,” Weeden explained. “This is especially true in states like Alabama, where governors have opposed or dragged their feet on Medicaid expansion and where there is little state support for child care or other resources that can help poor mothers complete their education, work full time, and get out of poverty.”
The passage of the Alabama Human Life Protection Act sparked outrage from Democratic lawmakers who called it a “disgrace” and “reckless,” while Republicans stand divided on the issue. The American Civil Liberties Union has announced plans to file a lawsuit against the Alabama bill, arguing it’s unconstitutional.