May 16, 2019 / 8:25 PM / 6 days ago

Alabama abortion law draws some criticism, mostly silence from national Republicans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several Republicans in the U.S. Congress are criticizing a new Alabama law that will ban nearly all abortions in the state as too extreme, saying exceptions should be made for rape and incest and questioning whether it will hold up in court.

Alabama’s governor on Wednesday signed the bill to ban abortions, except when a mother’s life is in jeopardy, in the latest challenge by conservatives to the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that established a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

Asked about the new law at a Thursday news conference in Washington, House of Representatives Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said that while he opposes abortion, Alabama’s law “goes further than I believe.”

“In my whole political career, I also believed in rape, incest or the life of the mother, there was exceptions,” he said, adding that that is the Republican Party’s official position and “where many of us stand.”

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican viewed as vulnerable as she seeks re-election next year, told reporters Alabama’s law is “terrible” and “very extreme.” She said she did not think the Supreme Court would uphold it.

Alabama’s law is the most restrictive in the nation, and abortion rights activists have said they will sue to block its enforcement.

The legal battle will play out in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential and congressional elections, when all 435 seats in the House and roughly a third of the Senate will be on ballots.

Democrats took control of the House in the 2018 elections, fueled by enthusiastic support from suburban women. Political strategists are warning that new abortion laws in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere could further alienate these moderate voters.

In a sign of the political sensitivity around the issue, most national Republicans were reticent on Thursday to weigh in on Alabama’s new law.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis, who faces one of the most competitive 2020 re-election races in North Carolina and has supported abortion restrictions, said “of course there needs to be” exceptions.

“I haven’t read the bill to know whether or not that was in there, but when we approached pro-life measures at the (North Carolina) statehouse, we did it in a way that was respectful,” Tillis told reporters of his time as a state lawmaker.

President Donald Trump’s appointment last year of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has created a conservative-leaning court that many believe may be open to overturning Roe v. Wade.

Trump, who has shifted from supporting abortion access to opposing it as president, did not address Alabama’s law on Twitter or at White House events. In his February State of the Union address, he called for a ban on late-term abortions that he incorrectly described as allowing “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signs into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, after both houses of the legislature passed the bill, in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., May 15, 2019. Office of the Governor State of Alabama/Handout via REUTERS

Democrats - including many of the more than 20 vying to be the party’s 2020 presidential nominee - have not hesitated to condemn Alabama’s law.

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a presidential contender, traveled to Georgia on Thursday to protest at the statehouse.

“It’s clear that the laws passing here in Georgia, and in states across the country, represent the greatest threat to reproductive freedom we have faced since Roe v. Wade,” Gillibrand said.

Reporting by Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis

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