Controversial abortion bills to hit House health panel Wednesday

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A batch of three Republican-sponsored proposals that would substantially restrict access to abortion for Alabama women are set to be considered in a public hearing before the House Health Policy Committee on Wednesday. Advocates and opponents will get a chance to address the bills briefly, after which lawmakers may or may not take roll call votes on the measures.

HB 405 by Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur could almost constitute a de facto ban on abortion procedures outright. The bill, dubbed by Collins the Fetal Heartbeat Act, would prohibit any Alabama doctor from performing an abortion once a heartbeat is detected, usually about six weeks after conception.

Women’s groups say a restriction on the procedures so early in the first trimester would preclude nearly all women in a crisis pregnancy situation from accessing an abortion provider in time to satisfy the requirements of such a law. For the Christian Coalition of Alabama, who is backing all three of the bills in part or in sum, that would not necessarily be a bad thing.

Montgomery Rep. Arnold Mooney has introduced HB 491 or the Health Care Rights of Conscience Act, which allows doctors who have moral or religious objections to abortion or stem cell research to refuse to participate in such research or any procedures pertaining to those subjects. Mooney’s bill also protects health care providers from criminal or civil penalties resultant from their refusal of services.

Hartselle Rep. Ed Henry is also sponsoring a pro-life proposal this Session. Specifically, his HB 527 would introduce an even more systematic threat to abortion clinics and providers by allowing Alabama Department of Public Health officials discretion as to whether or not to issue or renew licenses to facilities that offer reproductive health services that sit anywhere within 2,000 feet — nearly a mile — from a public school.

The distance is a guideline borrowed from geographical restrictions place on sex offenders.

Henry says the measure is necessary to protect the innocence of children, who might see or hear graphic material during a clash between pro-choice and pro-life protestors, a common sight near Planned Parenthood clinics and other abortion providers.

James Henderson, former head of the state Christian Coalition, said his group drafted Henry’s model legislation with an eye toward closing a clinic in Montgomery.

The bills will be heard in the Alabama House joint briefing room at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. A small number of advocates for both sides will be given a chance to address the bills in public testimony.

Depending on the tone of that testimony and the disposition of committee Chairwoman April Weaver, the panel will either hold up-or-down votes on the measures shortly after the bills are presented or hold the votes at a further meeting as soon as next week.

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