A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a near-total ban on abortions from taking effect next month in Alabama.
U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson granted a preliminary injunction against the Alabama law, which banned almost all abortions in the state. Doctors could be charged with a felony and face up to 99 years in prison for performing an abortion in most circumstances — or face a 10-year prison sentence for even attempting an abortion.
The law allows abortions in cases when a pregnant woman's life is at serious risk, though not for cases of rape or incest — a subject of heated debate among lawmakers this year. Two physicians would be required to certify an abortion is medically necessary.
It had been set to take effect on Nov. 15.
In his order, Thompson said the law, called the Human Life Protection Act, would cause "serious and irreparable harm" on women.
"A near-total ban imposes substantial costs on women, including those who are unable to obtain an abortion and those who 'desperately seek to exercise their ability to decide whether to have a child' and thus 'would take unsafe measures to end their pregnancies,'" Thompson wrote, citing Planned Parenthood Southeast v. Strange, another Alabama-based abortion lawsuit from 2014.
The preliminary injunction will remain in effect until further ruling by the district court.
The ruling against the Alabama law — the most restrictive measure passed by state lawmakers this year — was an early step in a legal battle that anti-abortion activists set up to directly challenge the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established a federal protection for abortion.
Opponents of abortion have been emboldened by the transformation of the Supreme Court with the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which secured a conservative majority on the nation's highest court for decades to come.
Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which mounted the legal challenge to the Alabama law, applauded the decision as a positive development as the case winds its way through the courts.
"Abortion remains legal in Alabama," Randall Marshall, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement following the ruling. "The state’s repeated attempts to push abortion out of reach by enacting unconstitutional laws restricting abortions have already cost taxpayers nearly $2.5 million. This ill-advised law will cost taxpayers more money."
Planned Parenthood hailed the ruling as a "victory for the entire nation."
"We said it from the start: this ban is blatantly unconstitutional and we will fight it every step of the way," President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast Staci Fox said in a statement. "We will continue fighting this law in court until it is permanently blocked, and we will work every day to make sure that abortion remains safe, legal and available in Alabama."
Steve Marshall, the state's attorney general, said Tuesday that the injunction was "not unexpected."
"As we have stated before, the state's objective is to advance our case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where we intend to submit evidence that supports our argument that Roe and Casey were wrongly decided and that the Constitution does not prohibit states from protecting unborn children from abortion," he said in a statement.