Lawmakers consider plan to ban abortions where fetal heartbeat is detected

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A panel of lawmakers heard public comment on a proposal that would make it illegal to perform an abortion without first determining fetal heartbeat, and ban abortions outright when a heartbeat has been detected.

House Bill 405, sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, says that any Alabama doctor who performs an abortion when a heartbeat has been determined would be guilty of a class C felony.

Rep. Collins said she introduced the bill because of her experience as a volunteer in a women’s health clinic. “More education – realizing that there is a heartbeat – is critical when moms are making these decisions. Protecting life is important.”

Alabama lawmakers attempted to impose similarly strict guidelines on abortions in the 2014 session; the Senate declined to vote on the bill, citing concerns over litigation.

“I thought (Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin’s bill) was one of the most common sense bills I’d heard,” said Rep. Collins. “If end of heartbeat determines where life stops, why not use the start of heartbeat to determine when life begins?”

Members of several pro-choice organizations spoke in favor of the legislation and its potential to establish a clear, objective test for establishing when abortions would be performed.

“The viability test in Roe v. Wade was supported by very little evidence at that time — and less so today,” said attorney John Eidsmoe, board member of Lutherans for Life. “The heartbeat test is objective and clear. Either there is a heartbeat or there isn’t.”

Others warned that the bill would effectively ban abortions outright, as many women are unaware they are pregnant until the second month of gestation. A fetal heartbeat can normally be determined as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Susan Watson executive director of the Alabama ACLU called the bill “one of the most extreme of its kind.” Watson warned that the bill would lead to expensive litigation and a possible Supreme Court case.

Similar laws have passed in North Dakota and Arkansas; both were ruled unconstitutional in federal court.

House lawmakers declined to vote on the proposal in Wednesday’s hearing.

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