Fate of Alabama's Abortion Clinics Could Be Decided by New Rules

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 3 2013 3:31 PM

Fate of Alabama's Abortion Clinics Could Be Decided by New Rules

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Participants in the 'Say So March' hold signs and a banner as they participate in an antiabortion march October 12, 2002 in downtown Birmingham Alabama

Photo by Gary Tramontina/Getty Images

Alabama looks set to become the latest state with new, restrictive abortion laws that could cause the state's five abortion-providing clinics to close—almost certainly prompting a legal challenge from clinics and organizations who want to keep abortion access in the state. 

The Women’s Health and Safety Act received final approval in the state's legislature last night, mostly along party lines in the Republican-controlled House and Senate. Like similar measures in other states, including North Dakota and Mississippi, the bill will require that a physician with admitting privileges to a hospital in the same metropolitan area as the clinic be present at each abortion. Clinics in Alabama could previously use traveling doctors, as long as there's at least one doctor with local admitting privileges contracted to that clinic for any needed care after the procedure, according to the Associated Press.

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The bill will also require all clinics to meet the same building requirements as ambulatory surgical centers within a year of the law going into effect. While these new requirements are framed by their supporters in terms of protecting women who choose to have an abortion, they will in effect make it nearly impossible for the state's clinics to operate at all. The new building requirements will require expensive and expansive architectural changes to the state's facilities that abortion providers and supporters say are cost-prohibitive and unnecessary. 

Supporters of the bill have more or less denied that they're actually trying to shut down the clinics with the new measure, arguing that the bill will merely address what they say is the fact that abortions aren't regulated enough compared to other medical procedures. But at least one anti-abortion lawmaker in Alabama isn't buying that argument. As quoted in the Montgomery Advertiser, Sen. Harri Anne Smith, an independent who voted against the bill, said: "I am all in favor of making abortions safer in Alabama and putting standards in place, but I am not in favor of violating the Constitution," adding that some of her colleagues have admitted that the bill is aimed at eliminating abortion access in the state. Indeed, bill sponsor Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin's response to critics of her bill hints at its dual purpose (emphasis ours): 

"If an abortion clinic is truly dedicated to providing adequate care, ensuring dependable safeguards, and putting patients’ needs before profits, it will embrace this legislation rather than oppose it. I am proud that the state of Alabama is daring to defend the right to life." (via Alabama.com)

In any case, Alabama governor Robert Bentley said in March that he'd sign the bill into law because "we need to remember we are dealing with human life and this is what God expects us to do." Based on the context—Bentley was speaking at an anti-abortion rally—it's fair to assume that the "life" in question is that of the fetus.

The new measure would also place new requirements on clinics for abortions performed on women under the age of 16—including the collection of the name and age of the person who impregnated her, and a requirement that the clinic give that information to authorities if the father is two years older or more, or if the girl is under 14. Abortions are already banned for pregnancies advanced beyond 20 weeks in the state, and women are required to undergo an ultrasound and receive a litany of materials before the procedure can be performed.

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