A right-wing group in Alabama is hoping to put an abortion clinic out of business by encouraging lawmakers to enact a new ordinance that requires abortion clinics to maintain the same distance from schools as sex offenders do.
The Christian Coalition of Alabama, which has been fighting for months to close the only abortion clinic in Northern Alabama, initially tried to file a lawsuit against the clinic arguing that it isn’t properly zoned. But after a judge rejected that lawsuit last week, the group has been forced to reassess its strategy against the Alabama Women’s Center, which is located in Hunstville.
Now, the group’s executive director, James Henderson, has indicated that he will start pressuring lawmakers to support a measure that would require abortion clinics to be at least 2,000 feet away from schools — the same buffer zone that the state maintains between convicted sexual predators and schools. Since the Alabama’s Women’s Center is located across the street from a site that’s being remodeled to be a magnet school, that would require its owners to relocate.
Henderson, who was recently elected to the executive committee of the state’s Republican Party, is confident that a buffer zone measure could advance in the legislature. “We are more motivated than ever to press on in standing for the unborn and their mothers,” he told the Hunstville Times. “There will be a lot of public input and I know it’s something Republican legislators will support.”
Dalton Johnson, who owns the Alabama Women’s Center, has already been forced to relocate his business this year. In June, Johnson closed his clinic because he couldn’t comply with a harsh new state law that requires clinics to meet strict building requirements. Under the new law, which stipulates that abortion clinics need to qualify as ambulatory surgical centers, Johnson’s building didn’t have wide enough hallways. Four months later, he was finally able to re-open in his current location.
Johnson called Henderson’s proposed buffer zone “crazy,” pointing out that abortion clinics are not inherently disruptive.
“It just goes to how they don’t want safe access here in Alabama. Nobody would know this is an abortion clinic if the protesters weren’t out there,” he told the Hunstville Times. The Christian Coalition of Alabama has been protesting outside of his clinic for the past decade. “If he would go on home and stop protesting then it would not be an issue.”
Henderson’s line of argument isn’t entirely unusual. Abortion opponents frequently suggest that reproductive health clinics aren’t appropriate businesses for quiet, wholesome communities. Earlier this month, a mayor in Georgia banned abortion clinics from his town altogether in order to avoid “drama.” (That ordinance is probably not legal, and lawmakers in the town are now reconsidering.) Anti-choice activists extend this logic to the people who work at clinics, too, suggesting they shouldn’t be allowed to volunteer at public schools.
But equating legal reproductive health services with immoral or unsavory activity — and implying that abortion is in the same category as child molestation — has serious consequences. This attitude toward the medical procedure helps fuel the persistent abortion stigma that teaches Americans abortion is something to be ashamed about. It sends a message to the one in three U.S. women who have chosen to end a pregnancy that they shouldn’t ever admit to making that decision.
The ongoing war against Johnson’s clinic is just one example of the way that reproductive rights are under attack in Alabama. Women in the state are also required to undergo a 48-hour waiting period, a mandatory ultrasound, and biased counseling before they’re allowed to proceed with an abortion. Alabama also has one of the most radical parental consent laws in the country, allowing the state to appoint a lawyer for minors’ fetuses and call witnesses to testify about why teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to end their pregnancies.