Alabama governor signs ban on abortion after 20 weeks

BIRMINGHAM, Ala, June 15 Wed Jun 15, 2011 6:13pm EDT

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala, June 15 (Reuters) - Alabama Governor Robert Bentley on Wednesday signed into law a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, making it the fifth U.S. state to enact such a restriction this year.

"I believe that life begins at conception and I signed this bill to further commit my promise to protect the life of an unborn child," Bentley, a Republican, said in a statement.

The law goes into effect on Sept. 1.

The measure, which was approved by large majorities in both chambers of the Republican-controlled Legislature, makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

Alabama state law currently allows abortion up to the stage of fetal viability, usually between 24 and 26 weeks gestation.

The new law makes it a felony to perform an abortion after 20 weeks -- when some controversial research suggests a fetus can feel pain -- unless the woman's pregnancy puts her at risk of death or substantial physical harm. It also requires physicians to report each abortion to a state database and compile an annual report of abortions.

The new restrictions are similar to ones enacted in Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma earlier this year and a law passed in Nebraska in 2010, said Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate with the Guttmacher Institute, an organization focusing on sexual and reproductive health.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 1.5 percent of abortions in the Unites States occur after the 20th week. The institute's research on induced abortions states that 88 percent of abortions in the U.S. take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

"By signing this bill, Governor Bentley shows a deliberate disregard to women's well-being and creates a law that poses a serious threat to women's health," said Olivia Turner, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama. (Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)

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