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US abortion rights activists to protest 'attack' on access

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Washington (AFP)

Demonstrations were planned across the United States on Tuesday in defense of the right to abortion, which activists see as increasingly under attack.

The "Day of Action" rallies come after the state of Alabama last week passed the country's most restrictive abortion ban, prohibiting the procedure in all cases -- even rape and incest -- unless the mother's life is at risk.

While the measure in Alabama is seen as particularly Draconian, it is among about 14 states which have adopted laws banning or drastically restricting access to abortion, according to activists.

Protests are planned in the country's west and northeast coasts, where progressives are well-established, as well as through the religious and conservative south, the "Bible Belt" that includes Alabama.

"Abortion access is under attack," said the powerful American Civil Liberties Union, an organizer of Tuesday's demonstrations.

"Today's the day we take to the streets to defend reproductive freedom. Our dissent is powerful. Our voices are powerful," the group said on Twitter.

Abortion is among the most divisive political issues in the US, and the doorsteps of abortion clinics nationwide have become the scene of daily standoffs between pro- and anti-abortion rights activists.

- Roe v. Wade, 46 years on -

In the capital Washington, protesters were to gather at noon in front of the Supreme Court, whose 1973 ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade recognized women's right to abortion up to the point at which a fetus is viable outside the womb, which is about 24 weeks.

Yet, Republican-led legislatures in state after state have been passing bills to restrict abortion in a bid to eventually challenge Roe v. Wade in the country's top court.

Earlier this month, the governor of Georgia signed into law a ban on abortion from the moment a fetal heartbeat is detected. Georgia became the sixth US state to outlaw abortion after roughly six weeks of gestation.

Missouri's legislature on Friday made the procedure illegal from eight weeks of pregnancy, and also did not make exceptions for rape or incest.

Ohio, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Iowa and North Dakota have enacted restrictive laws, while Florida and Texas are considering doing the same.

All of the state bans have either been blocked by a judge or are headed for the courts, and some of their backers have said that's exactly what they want so the issue will reach the Supreme Court after a series of appeals.

The hopes of anti-abortion activists have been lifted since President Donald Trump took office more than two years ago

He had promised to appoint only judges opposed to abortion, and has already named two conservatives to the highest bench, tipping the balance to a conservative majority of five among the nine total Supreme Court justices.

The Alabama law is to take effect in November. It seeks jail terms of between 10 and 99 years for doctors performing abortions, which are counted as homicides. It does not, however, penalize the mother.

On Sunday thousands of people rallied against the law in cities throughout Alabama, local media reported.

"Her body, her choice," said a protester's sign in Montgomery city.

Tensions are also evident outside the state's three abortion clinics, where activists opposed to the procedure try to convince women not to have abortions.

Abortion rights advocates say those tactics are aggressive and involve harassment or shaming.

Around two thirds of Americans say abortion should be legal, a Pew Center poll found last year, and the issue is expected to play prominently in the 2020 presidential election campaign.

Although Trump himself has given impetus to the anti-abortion side with his Supreme Court appointments and declarations that he is "strongly Pro-Life," he said late Saturday that exceptions should be made for "rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother."

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