The bill being considered in the Alabama Senate—which bans abortion outright in the state—was no laughing matter. But multiple times during the debate Tuesday, the gallery descended into snickers at male legislators’ confusion about human biology.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R), acknowledged in his opening statement that he was not a doctor, nor was he entirely clear on when a woman can know she is pregnant.
“I’m not trained medically so I don’t know the proper medical terminology and timelines,” Chambliss said. “But from what I’ve read, what I’ve been told, there’s some period of time before you can know a woman is pregnant.”
The senator then used that claim to argue that under the bill, a woman could end her pregnancy as long as she did not know she was pregnant. The claim, which Chambliss repeated several times during the debate, left many viewers feeling confused.
“How can someone know they need to make an appointment if they don’t know they’re pregnant?” the National Abortion Federation tweeted. “This bill is absurd.”
The bill contains no exceptions for victims of rape or incest and makes abortion a felony. It passed late Tuesday evening, and if signed into law would be the strictest abortion law in the country—likely setting up a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion across the U.S.
Tuesday’s debate on the bill was dominated largely by male legislators, many of whom seemed intent on letting the audience know they were not medical professionals. At one point, Sen. Roger Smitherman (D) asked Chambliss to explain why an egg did not count as human life under his bill.
“I’m at the limits of my medical knowledge,” Chambliss admitted, “but until those chromosomes you were talking about combine—from male and female—that’s my understanding [of when life begins].”
After a few more questions, Smitherman relented, saying: “I’m not going to put you on the spot. I don’t claim to be a practicing doctor myself.”
Two of the three women in the Alabama Senate also participated in the debate Tuesday, at times showing palpable frustration with their male counterparts. When Chambliss struggled to define when exactly a woman should know she was pregnant, Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison informed him he had given a “typical male answer.”
“You men don’t know what you don’t know because you’ve never been pregnant,” she said. “You can’t get pregnant, you’ve never been pregnant, you don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant, you don’t know what a woman goes through when she’s pregnant.”
“Senator, I don’t know if I’m smart enough to be pregnant,” Chambliss said, “so I appreciate the wisdom of our heavenly father.”
Sen. Bobby Singleton (D), incensed after an amendment he proposed allowing exceptions for victims of rape or incest went down, laid into Senate Republicans.
“You don’t care anything about babies for real... You just kicked them in the stomach and you aborted them yourself. You just aborted the state of Alabama with your rhetoric with this bill. You just aborted the state of Alabama yourself,” he said. “And all of you should be put in jail for this abortion that you just laid on the state of Alabama. This is just a shame, this is a disgrace, this is a travesty.”
Singleton then began filibustering, saying he ready to talk for as long as the rules allow to delay a vote on the bill.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has not said whether she will sign the bill into law. If signed, the bill would not take effect for another six months. The ACLU said Tuesday they would attempt to block it in court before that happened.