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Rallies for and against abortion fire up around the South

Abortion opponents held a rally Wednesday at the Alabama Capitol, savoring victory after the state's governor signed the nation's most stringent abortion ban into law last week.

Elsewhere in the South, pro-abortion demonstrators occupied much of a city block in New Orleans, chanting 'My body! My choice!"

Standing in front of the banner, "Pro-Life Pro-Woman," speakers said the law passed in Alabama — and fetal heartbeat laws in others states — show they are gaining momentum in the fight against abortion.

Hundreds of abortion-rights advocates block Poydras Street outside One Shell Square to protest anti-abortion legislation during a Just Laws or Outlaws: Take to the Streets event organized by New Orleans Abortion Fund, Women With a Vision, the New Orleans Peoples' Assembly, and BYP 100 on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 in New Orleans. (Michael DeMockerNOLA.com | The Times-Picayune via AP)

"Today, we are gathered to celebrate the historic stand that the state of Alabama has taken for human life," Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America said.

"Today we gather to say enough is enough. For too long the violence and tragedy of abortion has destroyed my generation," Hawkins said.

Gov. Kay Ivey signed the legislation last week that would make it a felony, punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison to perform an abortion. The law allows no exceptions for rape and incest.

Governors in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

None of the laws has actually taken effect, and all are expected to be blocked by the courts as the legal challenges play out with an ultimate eye on the Supreme Court.

But abortion opponents said the wave of state action is encouraging.

"This is the beginning of the end and the other side knows it," said Elizabeth Parker, minority outreach coordinator for Students for Life.

Rally speakers included women who regretted abortions, a man whose birth mother refused to have an abortion after a rape and a rape survivor.

A counterdemonstrator interrupted the rally repeatedly shouting "forced birth extremists" at the group who shouted back "pro-woman, pro-life." He was later lead away in handcuffs by state police after cursing during the confrontation.

Opponents of Alabama's abortion law had held a large rally at the Alabama Capitol on Sunday while simultaneous marches were held in Huntsville and Birmingham.

Meanwhile in New Orleans, supporters of abortion rights spilled into a street Wednesday after about an hour of speeches and unified chanting that included, "My body! My choice!"

Amy Irvin, executive director of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, an agency that funds abortions for those who cannot afford them, spoke against anti-abortion measures moving through Louisiana's legislative session, including one nearing final passage that could ban the procedure as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

"Most women don't even know they're pregnant. Why? Because we don't have comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education in this state," she said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Tony Carubba, a male protester holding a sign that read, "A Woman's Body A Woman's Choice," called the move to ban abortions "ridiculous."

"No man should tell a woman what to do with her body," he said.

Jennifer Holl, another protester, said she has concerns about women's health.

"You're not stopping abortion from happening, you're just making it less safe," said Holl, wearing a T-shirt that read "Stop Colonizing Our Bodies. "In a state that claims to be pro-life, we don't support child care. We have some of the worst maternal mortality (rates)."

Associated Press writer Stacey Plaisance contributed to this report from New Orleans.