WASHINGTON — The debate over abortion rights and the Supreme Court is moving to the center of the 2020 presidential campaign after Alabama's vote to advance new constraints on terminating pregnancies, a development that could energize the bases of both political parties.

Alabama's legislation — the toughest of several anti-abortion measures that have passed recently at the state level — prompted an outcry from Democratic presidential candidates, who warned that conservatives were laying the groundwork to undermine the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The White House, meanwhile, didn't comment on the bill as President Donald Trump balances his conservative base against the potential of antagonizing women who are already skeptical of his presidency.

The debate quickly took over on the Democratic campaign trail. Rallying supporters in New Hampshire, Kamala Harris said she would back a legal challenge to Alabama and Georgia laws that would dramatically restrict abortions. 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 Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has promised to only nominate judges ready to preserve the 1973 ruling that established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.

"I respect every woman's right to make a decision about what's in the best interest of herself and her family," Harris said.

Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved abortion bans once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. The Alabama bill, if signed into law by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, would be the nation's strictest, the only exception coming when the woman's health is at serious risk.

None of these laws are yet in force, either because of later effective dates or legal challenges that have blocked them. But supporters have openly predicted that the laws could spark court fights that will eventually lead the Supreme Court to revisit its Roe decision.

Gillibrand plans to fly to Atlanta on Thursday to meet with women protesting Georgia's state law.

Sen. Cory Booker told The Associated Press that backers of the Alabama measure are "saying that they designed this bill with certain provisions — like not having any exceptions for rape or incest — specifically designed so that they can lead a fight to the Supreme Court" to "undermine other freedoms and liberties of women to control their own bodies."

He said it's not enough to hope that the Supreme Court will uphold Roe v. Wade, adding, "We should not wait. We cannot wait to see if this gets worse."

Several Democratic presidential candidates sought to use their high-profile positions to boost organizing against the state-level abortion laws. Harris emailed her campaign supporters offering to "split a donation" to four advocacy groups working to defend abortion rights. Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, emailed his supporters to slam the Alabama law as "a cruel attack" and direct them to the abortion-rights group NARAL.

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Among the other Democratic candidates who took to Twitter to blast Alabama's law and other state-level restrictions were Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke.

The Democratic pushback comes as Trump makes his selection of conservative judges a centerpiece of his political stump speech, part of a long-running courtship of social conservatives whose support he needs to win reelection next year. Republicans have long believed that the politics of abortion have shifted somewhat in their favor in recent years. But the near-absolutist nature of the most recent bills has sparked some concern among the president's team that it could energize Trump critics and female voters, with whom the president has long struggled.

Trump won the White House in 2016 in part because of strong support from socially conservative Republicans who wanted to ensure that a conservative justice got named to the Supreme Court seat occupied by Antonin Scalia before his death — a seat held open by the GOP's refusal to confirm President Barack Obama's pick for the lifetime post. Trump publicly touted anti-abortion beliefs and publicly released a list of conservative judges from which he would select a nominee for the nation's highest court.

The president's selection of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has emboldened conservative allies of the White House who believe the time is ripe for a court case to challenge Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh assured senators before his confirmation last year that he viewed Roe as precedent, but Democratic senators at the time pointed to a 2003 memo he wrote as an adviser to former President George W. Bush's administration that suggested it wasn't necessary to call the landmark abortion-rights ruling "settled law" because the "Court can always overrule its precedent."

The Trump campaign deferred to the White House on whether Trump supported the Alabama measure or other restrictive bills passed by other states. However, Trump has supported policies in office that have restricted abortion, including a ban on abortions at the point that a fetus is believed to feel pain and the reinstatement of the so-called Mexico City policy, which bars U.S. overseas aid for entities that advocate for abortion rights or refer patients for abortions.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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