Defending “Our Rights” doesn’t seen to extend to the right of free speech in the Alabama legislature, where two anti-choice bills are top priorities on tomorrow’s Senate calendar, a clear signal that the body wants to divide supporters and quickly shut down the opposition.
SB 57, a bill that would force Alabama clinics providing abortions to be regulated as surgical facilities would shut down many if not all the abortion clinics in the state. Huntsville’s Alabama Women’s Center has already announced it will be unable to meet the new requirements if they pass the Senate, and other clinics are thought to be in the same situation. Jo Ann Cummings, an activist and bill opponent, told the Decatur Daily, “The bill’s requirement for facility modification … brings it up to the same standards as a place that does your colonoscopy—with 6-foot-wide corridors and certain fire and safety codes. Clinic directors tell us modifications would either force them to move or require up to $1 million in renovation costs.”
Cummings is just one of many reproductive rights advocates planning to come to the Senate hearing to speak out against the bill. But the number of opponents who will get a chance to do so may be purposefully limited. In order to stanch potential debate, the Senate scheduled another hearing on a different anti-choice bill, HB 108, just 30 minutes earlier. The Senate Banking and Insurance committee will meet at 11:30 a.m. to hear public comments regarding a bill that will allow “religious” employers to refuse to cover birth control and emergency contraception in their insurance plans. The public hearing on HB 57 begins just 30 minutes later.
“This is not an uncommon tactic with the Alabama Republican party,” Mia Raven of the Alabama Pro-Woman Coalition told RH Reality Check. “They try to divide us by scheduling public hearings so close together that the women who oppose these restrictive reproductive bills cannot be in two places at once. They did this to us last year on the failed ‘Personhood’ bill and SB10, the ‘Federal Abortion Mandate Opt Out Act,’ which did pass.”
When the House committee met to hear public comment on the TRAP bill, they could barely maintain a facade of politeness when listening to opponent testimony. Now, the Senate is going even further to try to limit the debate on the issue. Will the plan to divide and conquer the reproductive rights community work, or will backfire? Raven believes it is the latter. “Continuing to divide us will only make us fight harder to stop this assault on our reproductive rights,” vowed Raven.