News Law and Policy

Regulate Abortion Clinics Like Sex Offenders? Alabama GOP Says Yes

Teddy Wilson

The bill targets a Huntsville-area abortion clinic that was forced by GOP legislators three years ago to relocate across the street from an empty school, which was later renovated and is now the Academy for Academics and Arts.

A bill to regulate abortion clinics in the same manner as sex offenders has gained traction in the Alabama state legislature.

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.

“I’m just trying to protect young, impressionable children and not have them walk past a facility like this on a regular basis, frankly,” Sanford told the Montgomery Advertiser. “If it’s not appropriate for a liquor store to be within earshot, I’m not sure it’s appropriate for an abortion clinic to be in earshot of an elementary school, either.”

State senate Republicans passed the bill Tuesday in a 27-6 vote along party lines.

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The bill targets a Huntsville-area abortion clinic that was forced by GOP legislators three years ago to relocate across the street from an empty school, which was later renovated and is now the Academy for Academics and Arts.

The Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives, one of five clinics in the state providing abortion care, reportedly spent $550,000 on relocating to comply with a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed in 2013.

Dalton Johnson, administrator of the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives, told the Montgomery Advertiser that he had retained legal counsel should the bill become law, and accused legislators of targeting his clinic.

“They know they are going to be challenged, they know they are going to be unconstitutional,” Johnson said. “That money could be spent on so many things. They only care about their agendas.”

Sanford said that bill is justified because of the anti-choice protesters that frequently demonstrate outside the clinic.

“There’s a lot of commotion that tends to pop up on certain days of the week when the clinic’s in operation. A lot of commotion, a lot of signs,” Sanford said, reported the Montgomery Advertiser.

Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) sponsored a similar bill last year that was passed by the GOP-dominated house but failed to pass the state senate. The Rev. James Henderson, an anti-choice activist who regularly organizes prayer vigils outside of the Huntsville clinic, told AL.com in 2015 the legislation was drafted by the Christian Coalition of Alabama with the purpose of forcing the Alabama Women’s Center to close.

Henderson had resigned as executive director of the organization to lobby the state’s Republican majority to pass anti-choice legislation.

Henderson is once again supporting the legislation that regulates abortion clinics like convicted sex offenders. “It’s just a terrible situation because of the conflicts and the controversy that goes along with an abortion clinic. It just should not be across the street from public school,” Henderson told WAAY.

The bill has been transferred to the Alabama house, where Republicans hold a 72-33 majority. The measure has been referred to the House Committee on Health, where it awaits further action.

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