CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
On Tuesday evening, the Alabama House of Representatives approved four abortion restrictions that threaten to cut off women’s access to reproductive health care in the state. Taken together, the package of anti-choice measures represents some of the harshest legislation in the nation.
The most controversial of the four measures would ban abortion after just six weeks. This type of law is known as a “heartbeat ban” because it outlaws abortion services after a fetal heartbeat can first be detected — even though that occurs before many women even realize they’re pregnant. North Dakota passed the country’s first six-week ban last year, but it’s currently blocked from taking effect for violating women’s right to choose.
But the Alabama legislature isn’t concerned about provoking a similar court challenge for overstepping Roe v. Wade. The lawmaker who’s spearheading the six-week ban, Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin (R), has repeatedly likened her quest to ban abortion to the civil rights movement’s push to integrate public schools.
“This one would make it such that they would realize there’s a life, if there’s a heartbeat, there’s a life they’re killing,” McClurkin, who’s considered to be the “queen of pro-life legislation,” said on Tuesday.
In addition to the heartbeat ban, Alabama lawmakers also voted to advance separate bills that would extend the state’s abortion waiting period from 28 hours to 48 hours; make it more difficult for a minor to obtain an abortion; and require women choosing to end a nonviable pregnancy to receive more information about hospice centers that can care for their infant before it succumbs to its fatal conditions. Alabama does not currently have any of these hospice centers within its state borders, so this particular bill would force doctors to give grieving women more information about services that aren’t particularly helpful to them.
Hayley Smith, the associate advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told ThinkProgress that the state’s latest assault on abortion rights is “moving at an alarmingly fast pace.” These bills are headed to a full vote in Alabama’s Senate less than three weeks after they were first introduced. Although the separate measures were proposed by different Republican lawmakers, Smith and her colleagues see them as part of a larger coordinated strategy.
“These four bills were introduced together on the same day, heard in committee on the same day, and they all passed out of committee together. The intent is clear. As a package, they’re clearly intended to block access to abortion in Alabama,” she explained. “We’re extremely concerned about all of them.”
And although the six-week ban is grabbing the most headlines, Smith pointed out that Americans need to remember that Alabama women are facing other equally concerning attacks on their reproductive rights.
“It’s important to look at the larger landscape. There are the bills that clearly ban abortion, which get a lot of media attention. But then there are the bills that are sneakier attempts to chip away at a woman’s private medical decisions,” Smith noted. “So here, we see states moving to block a woman from getting the care she needs for a certain amount of days — 48 hours, 72 hours — or trying to shame her out of the decision she’s made by giving her information that she might not want, or that isn’t relevant to her decision. We need to remember that all of these bills threaten women’s health, and that they’re all equally as important and equally as dangerous for women.”
Along with other reproductive rights advocates on the ground, the ACLU is working to mobilize Alabama voters to tell lawmakers that this isn’t the right issue for them to be focusing on right now. The Alabama legislature has already spent a significant amount of time working to attack abortion. Last year, lawmakers passed extremely restrictive abortion clinic restrictions that threatened to force all of the state’s clinics to stop performing the procedure. That law has been temporarily blocked from taking effect while a legal challenge proceeds.
“Passage of these laws shows that many politicians are completely out of touch with their constituents on this issue,” Nikema Williams, the vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast, said in a statement. “At a time when Alabamians suffer from some of the worst health outcomes in the country, legislators should be finding ways to increase access to health care, not restrict it.”