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Thousands protest draconian Alabama abortion law

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Pro-Choice protesters march through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, during the March For Reproductive Freedom on Sunday. SETH HERALD/AFP

Thousands protest draconian Alabama abortion law

Thousands took to the streets in the southern US state of Alabama on Sunday to rally against the nation’s most restrictive bans on abortions in decades.

Around 500 women’s reproductive rights defenders gathered in state capital Montgomery, while in the cities of Birmingham, Anniston, Huntsville and Mobile around 3,000 more joined in denouncing the “Alabama Human Life Protection Act”, local media reported.

The act, known as HB314, virtually outlaws terminations of pregnancy.

Protesters in Montgomery held up signs reading “her body, her choice” and “we are not ovary-acting”.

A woman wearing beige underwear that made her look naked had a drawing of her reproductive system attached to her abdomen and a banner reading: “More than an incubator”.

Several other women were dressed as characters forced to bear children in the dystopian novel and television series The Handmaid’s Tale.

One of them, who gave her name only as Amanda, accused Alabama’s legislators of “trying to imprison women and doctors”.

“Wearing the Handmaid’s Tale outfit is sending a message that you’re trying to turn us into slaves, reproductive slaves,” said the 40-year-old-lawyer.

“They’re trying to fill prisons, more private prisons so that women will do hard labour after they get convicted of these ‘crimes’ of abortion.”

Last week, Alabama passed a law that prohibits all abortions – even in cases of incest and rape – unless there is a risk of death for the mother.

“Our call centre’s been getting hundreds and hundreds of phone calls from concerned citizens asking us what this means,” said Barbara Ann Luttrell, director of communications and marketing for Planned Parenthood Southeast.

Planned Parenthood is not currently providing abortion services in Alabama. “We’ll be having abortion services up and running again as soon as possible,” she said.

There are only three clinics that perform the procedure. None of them responded to requests for comment.

The Alabama law is likely to be blocked in state courts before its November launch date but Republican Governor Kay Ivey acknowledged when she signed it that it was part of as a wider Republican offensive to get the issue relitigated on the national stage.

Republican offensive

“We’re going to return to the back alleys. We’re going to return to where women will do abortions to themselves,” 81-year-old Maralyn Mosley told the Montgomery Advertiser.

She had an abortion at 13, after her uncle raped her.

“We will return to the coat hangers and perforated uteruses. We will return to where women will bleed to death,” she warned.

Conservative activists hope to get a Supreme Court decision against the landmark 1973 ruling Roe v Wade that said unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional.

Conservatives are counting on support at the highest court in the land, where liberal justices are in a minority after the arrival of two conservative members appointed by President Donald Trump.

Trump appeared to suggest Alabama lawmakers had gone too far in a series of tweets late on Saturday in which he described himself as “strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions - Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother”.

He urged the anti-abortion side to “stick together and Win for Life” when it comes to voting in 2020.

While the Alabama measure is seen as particularly draconian, at least 28 US states have introduced more than 300 texts since the start of the year limiting abortion rights, according to activists.

Kentucky and Mississippi have banned abortions as soon as a fetus’ heartbeat is detectable, or around the sixth week of pregnancy. Similar measures are being adopted in Georgia, Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee.

A judge has blocked the implementation of the Kentucky law, while the Mississippi law is set to come into effect in July.

The country’s largest human rights organisation, ACLU, has said it will file suit against Alabama’s law as unconstitutional.

HB314 seeks jail terms of between 10 and 99 years for doctors performing terminations, which are counted as homicides. It stipulates no penalty for the mother.

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