The Alabama legislature has begun voting on portions of the state GOP’s platform, known as “Dare Defend our Rights,” a blueprint for promoting “religious freedom, gun freedom, and school freedom,” among other things. The platform also focuses on limiting women’s freedoms when it comes to choice in childbearing: It includes a sweeping TRAP law that could force all clinics in the state that provide abortions to be shuttered if they cannot meet new onerous and medically-unnecessary regulations. The bill’s sponsor, Republican State Representative Mary Sue McClurkin recently received national attention when she referred to an embryo or fetus as “the largest organ in a woman’s body” (NB: embryos and fetuses are not organs), and is eagerly pushing the legislation to a vote.
Rep. McClurkin insists that the bill is a key part of the GOP’s “defending our right to life” agenda. Nonetheless, according to Eric Johnston, the president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, the main focus of the bill is to require hospital admitting privileges for those who provide abortions, a requirement that should be simple to fulfill, according to Johnston, who claims hospitals never deny privileges to qualified doctors out of fear of abortion opponents.
“If a doctor is qualified, hospitals admit them. They can’t discriminate against them and say, ‘Oh, you do abortions,'” Johnston told Mike Cason of AL.com. “If he has appropriate licenses and credentials, and has insurance, then he can get admitting privileges at the hospital.” Johnston conveniently overlooks the saga in Mississippi, where a number of hospitals cited not wanting to get involved in the abortion debate out of fear of reprisals as their reason for not considering admitting privileges for the providers at Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
To ensure that doctors weren’t turned down for privileges simply because they work in centers that provide abortions, an amendment was proposed to prohibit that from being used as a factor for denying requests. The amendment failed 29-64.
As HB57 came to the floor for debate, the Alabama Pro-Woman Coalition sought to deliver seven boxes of petitions signed by citizens opposing the new regulations. When members of the group arrived to make the delivery, they were refused entry because… they did not have the “proper cover letter on letterhead,” one of the Coalition members told Rewire. “We have never been denied the opportunity to submit petitions before due to a ‘lack of a proper cover letter on letterhead,'” said Mia Raven, who brought the boxes to the capital. “I personally feel that a cover letter was included on the top page of the petition, although it was not on ‘letterhead’ from an organization. Isn’t grassroots activism supposed to be just that—organic & not sponsored by corporate/organizational overlords? I also feel this is nothing but an attempt of the Alabama Republican Party to keep us from having our voices heard, since they were voting on the bill only 5 hours later.”
The group was eventually able to distribute some of the petitions with assistance from the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Montgomery, which offered them letterhead to create cover letters. But that rebuke was only the beginning of what would become a contentious debate over the bill and its implications, a debate that ended in the Speaker of the House being questioned to name how many women had died in facilities that did not currently meet the standards presented in the new bill. The Speaker responded, “Somebody dies in every abortion,” before finally admitting he could not provide an answer. Bill Sponsor Rep. McClurkin was just as confused, calling her bill “truly… a women’s rights bill,” during debate, yet being unable to explain or support either the Lilly Ledbetter Act or the Violence Against Women Act, two other bills that would be considered quintessential to women’s rights.
“This is the type of ignorance we are dealing with in Alabama,” said Raven. “Women here are treated like second class citizens today.”
HB eventually passed the House on an 73 to 23 vote. A companion bill is in the Senate awaiting a vote. The House also passed “The Religious Liberty Act,” a bill that would let employers refuse to allow birth control to be covered in an employee’s health plan. Both are expected to pass easily into law.
(Thank you to Heather Parker for assistance due to a technical audio error)