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In Packed Public Hearings in Alabama, Reproductive Rights Supporters Testify in Opposition to New Restrictions

Robin Marty

Despite an attempt to divide reproductive rights supporters their voices were heard.

When the Alabama legislature planned nearly concurrent public hearings for two bills meant to infringe on women’s reproductive rights, they no doubt believed that breaking up the supporters would dampen the debate.

They were wrong.

The hearings for both HB 57, a TRAP bill mandating unnecessary clinic construction requirements and doctor admitting privileges that could close the state’s five abortion providers, and HB 108 which would let employers deny birth control to employees on their health plans due to “religious” objections were held in separate committees and just 30 minutes apart from each other.  But turnout for the TRAP bill, especially by those who opposed the measures, was massive, and some still managed to be in two places at once.

HB 57’s public hearing ran for approximately one hour, with speakers for both sides of the bill getting two minutes each to talk. The meeting began with bill sponsor Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin providing background on her bill as a “women’s safety” measure, carrying a thick stack of paper she claimed were health department violations against Alabama clinics.

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She was soon followed by proponents of the bill, starting with an OB-GYN named Matt Phillips who claims he “cleans up the mess” of “botched abortions” from the clinics, and was soon followed by two members of local anti-choice organizations and two women who regret having abortions, one of whom claims that she was told by her doctor that her abortion was directly responsible for future infertility and three bouts of cancer.  Following those speeches, nine opponents of the bill spoke against the legislation, including clinic owners, religious leaders, medical professionals, and members of the Alabama Pro-Woman Coalition.

“This is about government interfering over women having the right to have domain over their own bodies, plain and simple,” testified Fred L. Hammond, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “This is not about safer medical clinics.”

Joann Cummings, who spoke out on behalf of Alabama women who opposed the bill, noted that the six deaths in the last 20 years that bill proponents were using to justify the regulations was really a sign of why enhanced “safety” standards weren’t necessary in the first place. “If this statistic were being used for any other surgical procedure it would be considered a remarkable record. But because these resulted from abortions, they are held out as glaring examples of malfeasance. I don’t hear outcry from deaths or complications from other procedures like liposuction, tummy tucks, or any other surgery.”

The committee chose to wait until their next meeting, to be held Wednesday, March 6th, before voting on HB 57. Although there will be no public input at the following meeting prior to the vote, it will provide committee members chances to amend the bill, something that Sen. Linda Coleman of Birmingham seems anxious to do.  According to Mike Cason of ALcom, Sen. Coleman “planned to offer some amendments to the bill, including one to remove the requirement to meet the same building codes as ambulatory surgical centers,” and argued that many of the regulations were unnecessary or repetitive. “It’s like nobody read this or checked what was even in place,” Coleman said.

The public testimony against HB 108 was less crowded but just as passionate, and Cummings managed to testify at both hearings back-to-back. “[T]his bill is not about religion. It really seems to be about giving business owners the power to control the sexual practices of their employees,”Cumming said, arguing against allowing an employer to essentially veto an employee’s right to birth control coverage. “If some people really think we should never have sex without an intention to create a baby, we must grant them their First Amendment right to believe—and THEY can practice abstinence.”

HB 108 was also put on hold, although a vote on that bill has not yet been scheduled. Unfortunately, anti-choice legislation continues on unabated. The newest bill? SB 251, a bill to “give health care providers the following: The authority to refuse to perform or to participate in health care services that violate their conscience; immunity from civil, criminal, or administrative liability for refusing to provide or participate in a health care service that violates their conscience.” A companion bill has been proposed in the House.

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