Alabama Senate delays vote on strict anti-abortion bill

(Reuters) – Alabama’s state Senate on Thursday delayed until next week a vote on the strictest abortion bill in the United States after disagreement arose on the Senate floor about whether to allow women impregnated by rape and incest to have a legal abortion.

The Alabama debate follows passage of anti-abortion laws in states that border it to the east and west, Georgia and Mississippi, creating what abortion rights advocates have warned would be a massive “abortion desert.”

Anti-abortion legislators have introduced strict bills in states across the country, inviting legal challenges in hopes that a case will land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court now has a majority of conservative judges, including two appointed by Republican President Donald Trump, who could possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that established a woman’s right to an abortion.

Alabama’s House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would have banned abortion except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger, which would make it the strictest state abortion law in the country.

After the bill moved to the Senate, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday added an amendment by Senator Tom Whatley that would also include exceptions for cases of rape and incest.

When the matter came before the full Senate on Thursday, and it was evident there was no consensus on the rape and incest amendment, the Senate delayed the vote until Tuesday, said Kim Robertson, a spokeswoman for Whatley.

Debate on a version of the bill without the rape and incest amendment was set to begin at 4 p.m. Central Time (2100 GMT) on Tuesday, she said.

Georgia on Tuesday became the fourth U.S. state this year to outlaw abortion after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, which abortion-rights advocates vowed to challenge in court.

FILE PHOTO – An exam room at the Planned Parenthood South Austin Health Center is seen in Austin, Texas, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ilana Panich-Linsman

Opponents called the legislation a virtual ban because fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks, before a woman may be aware she is pregnant.

Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have enacted heartbeat laws since mid-March, and Iowa passed one last year. Courts have blocked the Iowa and Kentucky laws, and the others face legal challenges.

Anti-abortion advocates have introduced measures in 15 states to ban the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, according to Rewire.News, a site specializing in the issue.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis

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