MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives approved legislation Tuesday to criminalize almost all abortions performed in Alabama.
Seventy-four Republican House members voted for the bill, three Democrats voted against it. Many other Democrats had already left the chamber in protest when the vote was taken.
House Bill 314 makes performing an abortion a Class A felony, but women who seek or have abortions would not be criminally liable. The only exceptions in the bill are if there is a serious health risk to the woman or if the fetus has a “lethal anomaly.”
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Bill sponsor Rep. Terri Collins, R- Decatur, said on the House floor that it is designed as a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, and to redefine when life begins.
“When I was pregnant with my first child, my grandmother went with me to have the ultrasound,” Collins said on the House floor while introducing the bill. “When we saw that little hand on the screen, we waved at it because we knew it was a person.”
“Is that baby in the womb a person? I believe our (state) law says it is, and our people say it is, and our technology says it is,” Collins said.
There is no exception for rape or incest in Collins’ bill. An amendment to add those exemptions was offered by House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D- Huntsville, but was tabled by Republicans.
Attempting to perform an abortion would be a Class C felony, punishable with one to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine, under the bill. Several groups have said they will sue to stop the law if it’s enacted.
Rep. Merika Coleman, D- Birmingham, offered an amendment that would make any expenses incurred by the state for court challenges to the bill deductible from the pay of legislators who voted for the bill.
“If you believe in this piece of legislation so much, then put your money where your mouth is,” Coleman said. “Don’t have the taxpayers foot an additional bill, they already pay your salaries. Put your money where your mouth is.”
The amendment was rejected.
Coleman said she supports life, too, but thinks this bill is only protecting birth.
“There are some people who just support birth, not life, because after a child is born, there needs to be more done to ensure that (a) child has a happy and successful life,” Coleman said.
The bill passed amid a frenzied State House. House Democrats at first worked to delay the flow of legislation to prevent the bill from coming up, and they later staged a walk-out to protest the bill.
Activists opposing the bill were removed from the House gallery after attempting to paint the word “dumb” on the glass separating the seats from the chamber. At least one protester was arrested.
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.
Jefferson County Votes
Birmingham-area representatives were split down part lines. Reps. Jim Carns, R-Birmingham, April Weaver, R-Alabaster, Arnold Mooney, R-Birmingham, Rep. David Wheeler, R-Vestavia Hills, Dickie Drake, R-Leeds, and Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, voted in favor of the bill.
Reps. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, John Rogers, D-Birmingham, and Rod Scott, D-Birmingham, voted against it.
Reps. Louise Alexander, D-Bessemer, Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, and participated in an organized walk out with fellow House Democrats and did not vote.
Neil Rafferty said legislators should be focused on the growing problems of infant mortality rates and healthcare problems the state already is dealing with.
“In the midst of a health care crisis — provider shortages, restricted access to care, high infant mortality rates, high maternal mortality rates, staggering health disparities — we are focusing on using taxpayer resources to go and fight a battle that has been lost time and time again,” Rafferty said. “This is the real moral crisis of Alabama.”
Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the organization is ready to lobby against the bill in the Senate.
“(Tuesday’s) floor debate made it crystal clear what Alabama lawmakers think about women,” Fox said in a written statement. “It also revealed just how callous and flagrant they can be. They voted overwhelmingly to reject any exception for rape or incest.”
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.
There were 6,768 abortions performed in Alabama in 2017, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.