Alabama Abortion Clinics Could Soon Be Regulated Like Sex Offenders

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Alabama Abortion Clinics Could Soon Be Regulated Like Sex Offenders

Teddy Wilson

GOP backers of the measure have said that abortion clinics should not be near schools because of the "commotion" caused by anti-choice protesters outside the facility.

The Republican-dominated Alabama legislature green lighted a pair of anti-choice bills Wednesday in the final hours the legislative session: one that regulates abortion clinics like sex offenders and another that criminalizes a common method of second-trimester abortion care.

Both measures were passed by wide margins. Republican Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign both bills.

SB 205, sponsored by state Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville), would prohibit the Alabama Department of Public Health from issuing or renewing a health center license to an abortion clinic or reproductive health center located within 2,000 feet of a public school, regulating abortion clinics in the same manner as registered sex offenders.

GOP backers of the measure have said that abortion clinics should not be near schools because of the “commotion” caused by anti-choice protesters outside the facility.

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The bill targets a Huntsville-area abortion clinic that was forced by state legislators three years ago to relocate across the street from a school. The Alabama Women’s Center, one of five clinics in the state providing abortion care, reportedly spent $550,000 in relocation costs to comply with a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law Bentley signed in 2013.

The West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, which is located near the Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Elementary, would also be forced to close.

The two clinics provide the vast majority of abortion services in the state. The clinics performed 5,927 abortion procedures in 2014, or 72 percent of the abortion procedures in the state that year, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The house gave final approval to SB 205 with a 73-18 vote, with two Democrats joining Republicans in voting in favor of the bill.  

Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle), who sponsored an identical bill in 2015 that didn’t pass, said during floor debate that the bill was intended to protect school children, reported the Associated Press.

“I don’t feel like these types of facilities need to be anywhere near our children,” Henry said.

Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) said during the floor debate that it was disturbing that a person or facility would comply with state law only to be penalized by lawmakers.

“It is unfair for an individual to meet the demands of a law that we passed and when they moved, we create another law to put them basically out of business,” Hall said.

Officials from the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama have vowed to file a lawsuit challenging the law if it is signed by the governor. 

“This law is an attack on the health and well-being of Alabama women. Government and politicians should not intrude on these personal, private family decisions,” Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement. “If passed, this outrageous law will only result in yet another costly lawsuit, which is the last thing our state needs.”

SB 363 would prohibit a physician from performing a “dismemberment abortion” unless it is necessary to prevent serious health risk to the pregnant person. This law targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D and E), which is frequently used during second-trimester abortions.

Physicians who violate the law would face fines of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to two years. The house approved SB 363 with a 74-26 vote, with two Democrats joining the Republicans in passing the measure. 

An abortion using suction aspiration can be performed up to 14 weeks’ gestation, but after 14 weeks, the D and E procedure is commonly used to perform an abortion, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. As such, D and E bans, depending upon their language, may ban all surgical abortion past 14 weeks’ gestation.

Republican legislators in several states have introduced bills to ban the D and E procedure over the past two years. The bills have been copies of legislation drafted by the anti-choice group known as the National Right to Life Committee.

Alabama will join neighboring Mississippi in passing bills this year outlawing the procedure if Bentley signs SB 363.

State courts have blocked such measures passed by GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas. West Virginia’s Republican-held legislature in March voted to override the veto of a similar anti-choice bill.

Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) called out what he viewed as Republican hypocrisy during the floor debate, as GOP lawmakers restrict abortion access while refusing to provide health care for low-income families.

“We want to ban abortions, but we don’t want to fund Medicaid to take care of the babies once they’re born,” Ford said.