Alabama lawmakers are holding public hearings on Wednesday on four different anti-abortion bills, each of which was drafted by the state’s Pro-Life Coalition. Individually, the bills are serious threats to reproductive rights. But taken together, the package of restrictions represents an “assault on women,” according to the executive director of Alabama’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The most controversial measure would forbid doctors from performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which can occur as early as six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even realize they’re pregnant. So-called “heartbeat” bills are clear violations of Roe v. Wade, narrowing the window during which women can access legal abortion services by about 18 weeks. Nonetheless, they’ve been proposed in a handful of states over the past few years, and North Dakota actually passed one last year.
North Dakota’s law is currently the harshest abortion ban in the nation — although it’s blocked from taking effect while it’s being challenged in court — but it appears that Alabama Republicans are eager to catch up. And they’re not stopping there.
In addition to the heartbeat ban, Alabama lawmakers are also considering a measure that would require women to wait 48 hours before being allowed to proceed with an abortion. The state already has a 24-hour waiting period. But state Rep. Ed Henry (R), who sponsored that bill, claims it’s important to give women even more time to consider a “monumental” decision that will impact the rest of their lives. Henry says the new requirement wouldn’t place a hardship on women because there are abortion clinics in each of the state’s major cities, which means they can’t be more than a two and half hour drive away.
The third proposed measure would also lengthen the abortion waiting period to 48 hours. On top of that, it would require women to receive information about hospice services if they are seeking an abortion because of fatal fetal abnormalities. The type of abnormalities specified in the bill would prevent a woman’s fetus from living for more than three months out of the womb. “The more information potential parents are provided with under these difficult circumstances about positive alternatives to abortion the more likely they will be to make an informed decision and a positive choice,” the legislation’s sponsor, state Rep. Kurt Wallace (R), said in a statement.
The fourth bill would tighten the law requiring parental consent for a minor who wants to have an abortion, further complicating the process for teens who need to end a pregnancy in potential situations of incest or abuse.
Susan Watson, who heads up the ACLU chapter in the state, told the Montgomery Adviser that the cluster of bills feels like an “assault on woman,” and that they go much too far to interfere in women’s relationships with their doctors. She noted that the legislation directly oversteps Roe v. Wade, and will make it harder for the most vulnerable women in the state to receive the care they need.
Indeed, political leaders in Alabama are upfront about the fact that the ultimate goal of this package of legislation is to end abortion altogether.
“It is unfortunate that liberal activist judges on the U.S. Supreme Court have made abortion legal in the United States, but Alabamians are fortunate to have a Republican legislature that continues to protect and prioritize life in our state,” Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard said in a press release about the new bills, which are described as “four common sense measures.”
Alabama already has several harsh anti-choice laws on the books, including stringent restrictions on abortion clinics that may force them to close, depending on whether a court allows the law to stand. NARAL Pro-Choice America gives the state a failing grade on several measures of reproductive rights.
February 25, 2014: A panel of Alabama lawmakers who serve on the House’s health committee advanced all four measures on Tuesday. The legislation now moves to a full vote in the GOP-controlled House.