The governor of Alabama has signed a bill banning almost all abortions - placing residents in the state on a par with people in many countries across the developing world.

In a move likely to result in a legal clash with the US Supreme Court - indeed, that is the express wish of those behind the measure - Republican Kay Ivey signed the measure, a day after it was passed by the state senate amid heated and emotional scenes. The measure bans abortions, except in the case of a serious risk to the mother's health, and makes it a crime punishable by up to 99 years in jail for any doctor who performs such a procedure.

“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,” Ms Ivey, 74, said in a statement issued along with an image of her signing the bill. 

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“To all Alabamians, I assure you that we will continue to follow the rule of law.”

The initial bill brought to the floor of the senate last week included additional exemptions for cases of incest and rape. But the bill’s sponsors moved to remove them, leading to angry scenes and postponing the vote until Tuesday. On Tuesday evening, the state senate voted 25-6 in favor of the bill. The lower chamber’s support for the measure in a vote last month had been even stronger - 74-3.

Abortion rights activists condemned Ms Ivey’s actions as the latest step in a coordinated, nationwide strategy to push abortion out of reach of women. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved abortion bans once a foetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.

“Alabama just passed a law that is a total ban on abortion, criminalizing the act and punishing women and doctors,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of the group NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“Anti-choice Republicans no longer even pretend to respect the law or the women that it protects. When this dangerous and demeaning law passed, Republicans stood up and applauded, while women wept.”

Developments in places such as Alabama mean abortion rights, and the status of Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court judgement that has been used to guarantee women access to safe and legal abortion procedures, will be part of the 2020 presidential election fight.

Democratic senator Vivian Davis Figures grills Republican counterpart as Alabama Senate passes a near-total abortion ban

Speaking to supporters in New Hampshire, Democrat Kamala Harris said she would back a legal challenge to the Alabama bill. She also vowed to make a commitment to upholding the Roe decision a “significant factor” in any Supreme Court nominees she might choose as president, though she declined to go as far as presidential rival Kirsten Gillibrand, who has promised to only nominate judges ready to preserve the ruling.

“I respect every woman’s right to make a decision about what's in the best interest of herself and her family,” said Ms Harris, more than 20 Democrats seeking the party’s nomination.

Those seeking to overturn Roe, something they believe is possible given Donald Trump’s appointment to the top court of justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, believe the Alabama ban will force the court to consider the issue. Mr Trump has relied on the support of social conservatives and evangelical Christians, though many believe the true driver on this issue is vice president, Mike Pence, a longtime opponent of abortion rights.

As it was, Ms Ivey admitted the measure passed in Alabama would not be enforceable as the law stood. 

“No matter one’s personal view on abortion, we can all recognise that, at least for the short term, this bill may be unenforceable. As citizens of this great country, we must always respect the authority of the US Supreme Court even when we disagree with their decisions,” she wrote.

She added: “Many Americans, myself included, disagreed when Roe v Wade was handed down in 1973. The sponsors of this bill believe that it is time, once again, for the Supreme Court to revisit this important matter, and they believe this act may bring about the best opportunity for this to occur.”

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