MONTGOMERY — Legislation to criminalize the performance of almost all abortions in Alabama goes further than many of the more than two dozen anti-abortion bills proposed in other conservative states this year.
The heavy restrictions in the bill are exactly why more than 70 GOP lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors, hoping the U.S. Supreme Court, now with five Republican-appointed justices, will limit constitutional protections on abortions. Several lawmakers told Alabama Daily News the legislation would be worth a costly legal fight when pro-choice groups challenge it.
House Bill 314 is sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur. She’s sponsored abortion restriction bills in previous sessions, including a fetal heart beat measure that would prohibit abortions once a heartbeat is detected. That legislation has been blocked in federal courts. Collins wanted a different bill this year.
“It was about creating something that was meant to go all the way to the Supreme Court and it also needed to have the most value when talking about a pro-life bill if you are going to try and pass it,” Collins said.
House Bill 314 and its companion Senate Bill 211 make performing an abortion a Class A felony, but women who seek or have abortions would not be criminally liable. The only exception in the bill is if there is a serious health risk to the woman or if the fetus has a “lethal anomaly.” There is no exception for rape or incest.
Last year, Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment declaring the policy of Alabama is “to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life … .” It also says it is the policy of the state “to ensure the protection of the rights of the unborn child in all manners and measures lawful and appropriate.” The measure passed with 59 percent support.
The state’s current law bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the pregnancy puts the mother at risk of death or serious harm. State law also requires an annual reporting of abortions by all providers.
There were 6,768 abortions performed in Alabama in 2017, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Of those, 5,773 were performed at or before 12 weeks of gestation. None were performed after 22 weeks.
Senate Bill 211 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and chairman Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said it likely will take the bill up the week of April 15. He’s supportive of the bill, with some caveats. He wants an amendment to specify how legal expenses are paid when the state is sued by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood.
“I want some restrictions on where this money comes from,” Ward said. “I want to make sure we’re not just sending a message with a huge price tag to taxpayers.”
If a state’s abortion law were upheld by the Supreme Court and states were allowed to limit access to abortion, the procedures wouldn’t end in all states, said Barbara Ann Luttrell, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Southeast.
While Alabama and other conservative states are moving to restrict abortion, several other legislatures in more liberal states are passing bills to protect it.
“Women with means or wealth would travel to another state to get their abortions,” Luttrell said. “For poor women, primarily women of color, who don’t have the means, abortion will always exist, but it will not be safe, legal abortions.
“Women will do whatever it takes to have control over their lives, their futures … what will happen is women will die.”
Senate Bill 211, which is sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, has 11 Republican co-sponsors, and others in the 35-member chamber say they also support it.
Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, said it is absolutely the goal of the Legislature to limit abortion as much as possible.
That the bill will face legal challenges “does not replace our responsibility to pass just laws,” said Stutts, an obstetrician.
House Bill 314 has 67 co-sponsors. That’s enough support to get it through that chamber. It’s been assigned to the House Health Committee and Collins requested that the bill be on that committee’s agenda this week. As of Friday, the agenda had not been set.
A comment from Gov. Kay Ivey on the bill wasn’t available last week. Her office said she wasn’t consulted on the legislation. The bill would go into effect six months after being enacted.
Exceptions Being Debated
Republican Rep. Ginny Shaver is a freshman legislator from Leesburg and is a co-sponsor on the bill. Shaver said she doesn’t believe in abortion even when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.
“My personal belief is that even those babies are human beings and it is a very unfortunate situation in those circumstances, but in my opinion, it is still a baby and it’s still a human life,” Shaver said.
Rep. Randy Wood, R- Anniston, told Alabama Daily News that he expects there to be an amendment for exceptions of rape or incest when the bill comes up for discussion.
“I would be shocked if it wasn’t included in the bill,” said Wood, who also is listed as a co-sponsor on the bill.
Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, also a co-sponsor, said he wants an abortion case to go to the Supreme Court.
“Society has changed, technology has changed, science has changed,” Garrett said about the more than 40 years since Roe v. Wade was decided. “What we’re doing here is saying we want the courts to reevaluate this whole issue in light of new information.”
Garrett said, “I’m a financial guy and I don’t want the state wasting money on frivolous matters, but the abortion issue is not a frivolous issue … and I think most Alabamians would agree.”
Rep. Neil Rafferty, D- Birmingham, does not support the bill and said that for him it comes down to the issue of privacy for women and equal protection under the law.
“The bill itself greatly diminishes a woman’s bodily autonomy and her dignity as an equal citizen deserving of equal protection under the law and then once again this promotes state interference into the physician-patient relationship,” Rafferty said.
Rafferty thinks that the state should be more focused on dealing with present day issues such as health care in the state and the closing of rural hospitals.
“We have rural hospitals closing that make it so pregnant women can’t even get to obstetricians that they need to take of their babies,” Rafferty said. “That’s why I just don’t understand why we are sitting here and have this real-life crisis right in front us and why we would then waste a bunch of money in pursuit of a lawsuit they know they’re not going to win.”
Several states recently have passed abortion-limiting laws that are being challenged in or have been blocked by federal courts.
The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health and rights advocacy group in Washington, D.C., says the number of abortion-limiting bills proposed this year is consistent with 2018, but the “extreme nature” of this year’s bills are unprecedented.
Twenty-eight states introduced a variety of abortion bans in the first three months of this year.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R- Monrovia, who also is a co-sponsor of Collins’ bill, told reporters Thursday that he likes the chances of it getting to the Supreme Court. He said that combining efforts with other pro-life states could help mitigate those costs.
“There are several states in the country that are moving in the direction in trying to put together legislation that would clarify and strengthen the abortion law, and because of that, several states are trying to move in the direction of having something that would make it to the Supreme Court,” McCutcheon said. “I would hope that we in Alabama will join with some of these others states and do a collective type of approach so it could help us with some of the resources.”