The end of the legislative session couldn’t come soon enough for reproductive rights supporters in Alabama, where the state’s biggest piece of anti-choice legislation still threatens to close down all of the clinics in the state. While providers search for ways to either meet or block new structural and medical standards designed by the legislature, many other bills seem to have faded into the ether. Instead, the fight over abortion access is literally being taken to the streets, as a new Huntsville city ordinance goes into place.
The Alabama 2013 legislative session ended May 21 with the signing of HB 57, a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) bill that will attempt to transform abortion clinics into surgical centers, mandating what medication, rooms, hallway sizes, and equipment the clinics must possess in order to operate. The bill will also require doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, a requirement that has local providers concerned that regardless of the money they put into renovations, keeping clinics open under the new rules may be an impossibility. Republican Gov. Robert Bentley signed the bill into law on April 9, a month after telling anti-choice advocates that it was “what God expects” of him.
HB 57 will go into effect on July 1 without any intervention, but both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood Southeast have vowed to challenge it. The ACLU said it pursue whatever means necessary to block HB 57, calling the law another example of “extremists” trying to “outlaw abortion access.”
Perhaps because they may be able to shut down most of the clinics in the state, anti-choice members of the legislature did not push as hard when it came to passing the myriad other anti-choice bills introduced this session. HB 360, which would have codified medical lies into the state’s mandatory consent script, never made it out of the house. Also not making it into law is a “religious liberty” piece of legislation that would have allowed employers to veto allowing contraception coverage in an employee health-care plan.
The Alabama legislature may be done considering bills for the year, but that doesn’t mean the battle over abortion rights, and especially clinic access, has come to a close. Besides the likely court case over the TRAP law, local activists both for and against abortion are continuing to fight over access to sidewalks outside a Huntsville, Alabama, abortion provider. After a grueling back-and-forth of a trial revolving around whether one anti-choice protester was committing assault by spraying pro-choice activists with something she claimed was holy water, a new ordinance will require both groups to share the sidewalks in front of the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives. For the first time in over a decade, pro-choice activists will be allowed to use the sidewalk directly in front of the clinic after obtaining a six-month permit for the area. Anti-choice protesters who had permitted out the area prior to this change will be relocated just down the sidewalk.
The agreement could cause the environment outside the clinic to get even more uncomfortable, something the clinic and its supporters are hoping will not have an effect on the Blount Hospitality House, a guest home for non-Hunstville residents that “provides lodging and supportive companionship for out-of-town relatives of patients in Huntsville area hospitals.” Because of its proximity to the clinic, it is the new gathering place for the protesters who oppose abortion. To help protect Blount House residents, abortion rights supporters have raised money to purchase a fence to block the building from the clinic and the protests taking place in front of it.
“The antis have a permit for eight protesters to be on the sidewalk in front of the Blount House,” activist Pamela Watters, who helped spearhead the fundraising drive, told RH Reality Check. “The fence will not only protect the families there from the happenings at the women’s clinic, it will also prevent the antis from attempting to interact with the young women entering the clinic.”
The activists raised the $1,200 needed for the privacy fence in under 24 hours.
Will the fence outlast the clinic and the other abortion providers in the state that will be forced to undergo medically unnecessary, expensive remodeling or else close down? Or will the courts block TRAP as a backdoor ban meant to cut off all access to safe, legal abortion care in the state? Whatever happens, it’s apparent that the legislative recess will be a period during which anti-choice politicians will evaluate new ways to block reproductive health-care decisions.
Meanwhile, activists are already organizing to prepare for the 2014 legislative session.