Alabama legislators were unable to pass any measures this year to further restrict reproductive rights, despite introducing three anti-choice bills and advancing one piece of legislation that would have regulated abortion clinics like registered sex offenders.
Mia Raven, legislative director of Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, told the Montgomery Advertiser that it’s an important victory, but that the state’s Republican-controlled legislature will likely push similar measures during the next session.
“I’m glad it didn’t go through,” Raven said. “At the same time, I’m not an idiot. I know they’re going to be back.”
Some lawmakers claimed that fights over the state budget prevented consideration of controversial legislation, while others countered that whether a bill is controversial should not have any bearing on whether or not it is debated by the legislature.
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HB 527, sponsored by Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle), would have empowered the Alabama Department of Public Health to reject or refuse to renew health center licenses for facilities providing abortion or reproductive health-care services located within 2,000 feet of a public school.
The bill would have regulated abortion clinics like registered sex offenders.
The bill specifically targeted a Huntsville-area abortion clinic that was forced by state regulations to relocate across the street from a school. The Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives Services, one of five clinics in the state providing abortion care, reportedly spent $550,000 on relocating to comply with a law passed by Republican lawmakers in 2013.
James Henderson, the former head of the anti-choice Christian Coalition of Alabama, told the Montgomery Press-Register that his group drafted the legislation with the purpose of forcing the Alabama Women’s Center to close. Henderson resigned as executive director of the organization to lobby the state’s dominant GOP majority to pass anti-choice legislation.
Nikema Williams, Planned Parenthood Southeast vice president of public policy, said in a statement that the intent of HB 527 was to restrict women’s access to legal and safe abortion care.
“To treat us as if we should be on some watch list as convicted sex offenders is asinine,” Williams said. “It’s always wrong for politicians to play politics with women’s lives and that’s exactly what this bill aims to do.”
The bill was passed in May by lawmakers in the Republican-controlled house by 79-15 vote, and then passed by a senate committee with three days left in the legislative session. However, the bill failed to be brought to senate floor for a vote, despite the Republicans holding a 26-8 majority in the chamber.
Two other bills to restrict reproductive rights were introduced in by lawmakers in the house, but failed to gain any traction.
HB 405, sponsored by sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), would have prohibited a physician from performing an abortion on a pregnant woman without first determining if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat.
The bill would have effectively banned abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before a woman may know she is pregnant. So-called heartbeat bans were introduced in a handful of state legislatures this year, and have gained limited supported from anti-choice state lawmakers.
HB 491, sponsored by Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham), would allow health-care professionals to refuse to participate in care that violates their conscience, ethical, or religious convictions. This could include performing abortions, sterilization, human cloning, and human embryonic stem cell research.
Similar bills have been introduced in at least five states this year. However, the same concept has been used to justify so-called “religious liberty” bills that have been introduced in several states.
Joe Godfrey, executive director of the right-wing Christian conservative organization Alabama Citizens Action Program, told the Montgomery Advertiser that lawmakers had put the group’s issues on the “backburner.”
“The bottom line is they have a supermajority,” Godfrey said. “They can override a filibuster any time they want. It’s a matter of will, as far as I’m concerned.”
However, Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) told the Montgomery Advertiser that abortion is already so restricted that passing any more legislation would risk violating Supreme Court rulings.
“They’ve passed so much it’s hard to know how much more you could restrict abortion without violating the Supreme Court,” she said.
Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, told the Montgomery Advertiser that bills like HB 527 would have certainly faced a legal challenge. “We would have sued them over that,” Watson said. “Lawsuits take such a long time, and they’re expensive. And it’s better for people of Alabama that [they] don’t pass it.”