Hundreds of demonstrators have marched on the Alabama state legislature to protest against a newly-approved abortion ban.
The demonstration in Montgomery came days after governor Kay Ivey signed the most stringent abortion law in America.
It will make performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases unless it is necessary for the mother’s health. The law provides no exception for rape and incest.
Staci Fox, president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, told the crowd outside the Alabama capitol: “Banning abortion does not stop abortion. It stops safe abortion.”
Alabama is part of a wave of conservative states seeking to mount new legal challenges to Roe v Wade, the 1973 US supreme court decision that legalised abortion nationwide.
Governors in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a foetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.
None of the laws have actually taken effect, and all are expected to be blocked by the courts as the legal challenges play out with an ultimate eye on the US supreme court.
Marchers said the measures have energised supporters of legalised abortion, and they say they are digging in for a legal and political fight. Along the route they took, the protesters passed by scattered counter-demonstrators raising signs against abortion.
Two speakers at the rally on the capitol steps shared their stories, including a woman who described the abortion she had after being raped at a party when she was 18.
Carrying an orange sign with a coat hanger and the caption “No Never Again”, 69-year-old Deborah Hall of Montgomery said she remembers life before Roe and cannot believe the drive to return there.
“I had friends who had illegal abortions and barely survived,” said Ms Hall, who for a time ran a clinic in Montgomery that provided abortion, birth control and other services.
“I still cannot believe it. It’s really a scary time for everybody.”
Similar demonstrations were held in Birmingham and Huntsville on Sunday.
Amanda Reyes, who runs Yellowhammer Fund, a non-profit body that provides funding to help low-income women obtain abortions, said donations have begun streaming in since passage of the Alabama bill.
Groups this week paid for a small plane carrying a banner “Abortion is Okay!” to circle the capitol and the governor’s mansion.
The Alabama law would make it a felony, punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison to perform an abortion. There would be no punishment for the woman receiving the abortion.
But the protest outside the capitol comes in a state where a majority of voters recently agreed to put anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution.
Fifty-nine per cent of state voters in November approved the constitutional amendment saying the state recognises the rights of the “unborn”.
Ms Ivey said in a statement after signing the ban into law: “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 Alabama law has also been criticised by some conservatives who have expressed discomfort over the lack of exceptions for cases of rape and incest.
President Donald Trump, while not mentioning Alabama’s law, wrote in a weekend tweet that he is strongly “pro-life”, but favours exceptions.
He wrote: “As most people know, and for those who would like to know, I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions – Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother – the same position taken by Ronald Reagan.”
Terri Collins, the sponsor of the Alabama law, said the purpose is to challenge Roe and added that Alabama legislators can add exemptions if states regain control of abortion access.
- Press Association