In Packed Public Hearings in Alabama, Reproductive Rights Supporters Testify in Opposition to New Restrictions

When the Alabama legislature planned nearly concurrent public hearings for two bills meant to infringe on women’s reproductive rights, they no doubt believed that breaking up the supporters would dampen the debate.

They were wrong.

The hearings for both HB 57, a TRAP bill mandating unnecessary clinic construction requirements and doctor admitting privileges that could close the state’s five abortion providers, and HB 108 which would let employers deny birth control to employees on their health plans due to “religious” objections were held in separate committees and just 30 minutes apart from each other.  But turnout for the TRAP bill, especially by those who opposed the measures, was massive, and some still managed to be in two places at once.

HB 57’s public hearing ran for approximately one hour, with speakers for both sides of the bill getting two minutes each to talk. The meeting began with bill sponsor Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin providing background on her bill as a “women’s safety” measure, carrying a thick stack of paper she claimed were health department violations against Alabama clinics.

She was soon followed by proponents of the bill, starting with an OB-GYN named Matt Phillips who claims he “cleans up the mess” of “botched abortions” from the clinics, and was soon followed by two members of local anti-choice organizations and two women who regret having abortions, one of whom claims that she was told by her doctor that her abortion was directly responsible for future infertility and three bouts of cancer.  Following those speeches, nine opponents of the bill spoke against the legislation, including clinic owners, religious leaders, medical professionals, and members of the Alabama Pro-Woman Coalition.

“This is about government interfering over women having the right to have domain over their own bodies, plain and simple,” testified Fred L. Hammond, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “This is not about safer medical clinics.”

Joann Cummings, who spoke out on behalf of Alabama women who opposed the bill, noted that the six deaths in the last 20 years that bill proponents were using to justify the regulations was really a sign of why enhanced “safety” standards weren’t necessary in the first place. “If this statistic were being used for any other surgical procedure it would be considered a remarkable record. But because these resulted from abortions, they are held out as glaring examples of malfeasance. I don’t hear outcry from deaths or complications from other procedures like liposuction, tummy tucks, or any other surgery.”

The committee chose to wait until their next meeting, to be held Wednesday, March 6th, before voting on HB 57. Although there will be no public input at the following meeting prior to the vote, it will provide committee members chances to amend the bill, something that Sen. Linda Coleman of Birmingham seems anxious to do.  According to Mike Cason of ALcom, Sen. Coleman “planned to offer some amendments to the bill, including one to remove the requirement to meet the same building codes as ambulatory surgical centers,” and argued that many of the regulations were unnecessary or repetitive. “It’s like nobody read this or checked what was even in place,” Coleman said.

The public testimony against HB 108 was less crowded but just as passionate, and Cummings managed to testify at both hearings back-to-back. “[T]his bill is not about religion. It really seems to be about giving business owners the power to control the sexual practices of their employees,”Cumming said, arguing against allowing an employer to essentially veto an employee’s right to birth control coverage. “If some people really think we should never have sex without an intention to create a baby, we must grant them their First Amendment right to believe—and THEY can practice abstinence.”

HB 108 was also put on hold, although a vote on that bill has not yet been scheduled. Unfortunately, anti-choice legislation continues on unabated. The newest bill? SB 251, a bill to “give health care providers the following: The authority to refuse to perform or to participate in health care services that violate their conscience; immunity from civil, criminal, or administrative liability for refusing to provide or participate in a health care service that violates their conscience.” A companion bill has been proposed in the House.

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  • Joann Cummings

    HB108 is not just about SMALL business owners not being forced to provide birth control to the families of their five employees. It truly is the “Hobby Lobby anti-contraception law” – the bill author, who testified as the proponent for the bill, even said so. This is for a business – with no matter how many hundreds or thousands of employees – but “up to 10 owners or shareholders” who object to contraception on religious grounds- then you can designate yourself “religiously motivated”. This bill would allow 2 or 5 or 10 people to direct the insurance provider of the company-no matter how big- to exclude coverage of ALL contraceptives from the insurance plans for ALL employees, even though this is in direct violation of the Affordable Care Act. (which is what they are really challenging).

    HB108 allows a family member of an employee who needs birth control medications for OTHER medical needs (acne, cramping, etc) to have their BC covered. However FIRST they must pay for the BC themselves, then bring a “permission slip” or affidavit from their physician that it is NOT for contraception, before they can file for expense reimbursement from the insurer. This violates HIPPA privacy rules.

    Now if you are a business owner, and other friends, who are “holy” biz owners, encourage you “join the movement” and become “religiously motivated”, you might think, WHY NOT? I might save money because I won’t have to pay for birth control! Not so fast! Because –it is MUCH MORE expensive to pay for maternity care, birth and infant/child health care than it is to pay for BC, so your insurance premiums may actually GO UP! But I guess that is fine, as long as you are not paying for contraceptives…
    Now – HB108 is not really an original bill prepared by the “author” from Alabama. He may have made some “state-specific” modifications, but it is really just another version of cookie-cutter legislation prepared by Americans United for Life, which is a national anti-abortion organization that provides model bills like this to affiliates all over the country. And AUL – as a religious priniciple – believes that ALL forms of contraception are abortion inducing. Even though it is MEDICALLY INACCURATE, they “believe” that every contraceptive medication or device causes abortions.

    Medication to induce abortion has only been available in recent years and is only administered after at least one week from intercourse. EVERY OTHER method of contraception (available for a long, long time) listed for this bill PREVENTS fertilization from occuring. It either happens because eggs are not released from the ovary, sperm is blocked at the cervix, or, in the case of barrier methods like a diaphragm, a released egg and sperm NEVER MEET. But apparently, AUL cannot tell the difference between ovualtion, feritilzation or implantation. Even the “morning after pill”, if it is used too late and implantation has already occurred, DOES NOT WORK to stop pregnancy. Yet because AUL supporters DO NOT believe science, then they continue to “believe” that contraception is abortion and mis-inform the “religiously motivated” business community, so that they can advance their pro-birth agenda.

    Sorry I have gone on so long, but I would like to bring up one more point. The Budget Impact Report (BIR) for this bill states NO FINANCIAL IMPACT on the state. However, if this bill passes – there WILL be an impact on the Medicaid Budget, because right now, 66% of unintended pregancies in this state are paid for under Medicaid. This bill means that the only acceptable form of birth control would be abstinence, rhythm method or condoms – the same techniques of the 1950’s, when the fertility rate for women was twice as high as it is today- and THAT was in a stricter society.(Back then it was 120 births per 1000 women age 14-44).

    Let’s say that enough big and small companies became “religiously motivated” that this policy affected 50,000 employees who have an average family of four. So that is 200,000 family members impacted. Of these, at least 20% will be women age 14-44, and lets assume half cannot afford birth control or to pay for maternity care. That is 10,000 women x 120/1000, or 1200 unintended babies that need Medicaid to pay for care. At state cost of $2600 each ($6000 total), that is over $3 million more needed for the Medicaid budget. THAT is not the same as NO BUDGET IMPACT. And what if MORE employers “find religion”?

    HB108 is a BAD BILL based on faulty science hidden under religious zealotry, literally FULL of “unintended” consequences.

    • Ella Warnock

      Thanks for the breakdown, Joann.

  • Joann Cummings

    Actually the correct quote related to Abortion Safety is “Only a total of six deaths can be found from abortions since 1973, and the last ones were OVER 20 years ago” not six in the last 20 years.

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