Alabama Lawmakers Propose Near-Total Abortion Ban, Other Severe Restrictions

Alabama legislators held public hearings Wednesday on four anti-choice bills, including one that would ban abortion as early as six weeks. The other bills would make it extremely difficult for minors to obtain abortions, make all women wait longer to get an abortion, and force women carrying fetuses with fatal anomalies to hear about perinatal hospice options that may not even exist in Alabama.

The “Fetal Heartbeat Act” would make it a felony for a physician to perform an abortion without first determining whether the fetus has a heartbeat, or to perform an abortion after a heartbeat is detected. There are exceptions for the life or health of the pregnant person, but not mental health, rape, or incest exceptions. Because a fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks, and because many women do not know they are pregnant that soon, this would amount to a near-total ban on abortion.

“It’s clearly unconstitutional,” Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Alabama, told RH Reality Check. Roe v. Wade prohibits bans on abortion before viability, which is considered today to be around 24 weeks. Only North Dakota has enacted a ban as early as Alabama is proposing, and that ban is not in effect while legal challenges proceed. New fetal heartbeat bills have also been introduced this year in Ohio, Kentucky, and Kansas.

The ACLU is already in court fighting new laws that threatened to close three of the state’s five clinics. By introducing an unconstitutional abortion ban, Watson said, “legislators are yet again exposing the state to long and costly litigation.”

Indeed, the bill was intended by its original author to be a direct court challenge to Roe v. Wade. Alabama Pro-Life Coalition Executive Director Eric Johnston, who drafted all four of the anti-choice bills, told the Montgomery Advertiser that the bill’s intent is to seek to change the definition of “viability” from the time the fetus can survive outside the womb, to the time when a heartbeat is detected. “The ultimate purpose is to get it tested in court,” Johnston said.

Another extreme bill would require a minor seeking an abortion to provide a certified birth certificate and a notarized consent form signed by her parents—who must also provide identification—in the presence of the abortion provider. The state already requires minors to get parental consent or an order from a judge before getting an abortion. If a minor wishes to use the judicial bypass process (some teens may need to avoid telling their parents about an abortion if a parent is abusive or the teen does not have a relationship with them), she must provide evidence of her maturity and understanding of abortion. But she cannot use the fact that she navigated the legal system as evidence of maturity. To get judicial bypass, she also must explain why she did not or could not tell her parents, and she must show that she has been counseled by a “qualified person” on alternatives to abortion.

“This bill is particularly troubling,” said Watson. “Judicial bypass is already a cumbersome procedure here in Alabama, and this is just making it nigh unto impossible.” And requiring a certified birth certificate, Watson said, could force the pregnant minor to wait at least another week if she only has a hospital copy.

“These types of restrictions will be more burdensome on poorer women and immigrant women, simply because their life circumstances may make it difficult to access requisite documents and identification, and be able to be in the clinic to get sign the consent form and then get it notarized,” Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, told RH Reality Check over email.

Moreover, the bill eliminates requirements that the minor’s identity will remain confidential. “We know that minors hold confidential health care very dearly and without such protections they are less likely to see medical treatment,” Nash said.

The bill also allows the state to appoint a lawyer for the fetus as well as the minor, which Watson called “unusual.”

Also alarming pro-choice advocates is a bill that would prohibit abortions in cases when a fetus has fatal anomalies unless a woman is first informed of the option to use perinatal hospice services as an alternative to abortion. Perinatal hospice provides “supportive care” for women who choose to continue a pregnancy with fatal anomalies rather than terminate it. However, Brooke Anderson, a spokesperson at the ACLU of Alabama, told RH Reality Check that she found no evidence of perinatal hospice services offered anywhere in Alabama, and that the bill’s sponsor, Kurt Wallace (R-Maplesville), admitted as much during the bill’s public hearing.

“Punishing women who are already in a very difficult situation with a complicated pregnancy by forcing them to hear about this hospice option, and implying that they should carry to term when a baby is stillborn or will die right at birth, is just unconscionable,” Nora Spencer, vice president of external affairs at Planned Parenthood of the Southeast, told RH Reality Check.

The hospice bill also requires this “informed consent” to take place 48 hours before a procedure.

Alabama’s current law requires “informed consent” materials to be provided to women seeking an abortion 24 hours in advance of the procedure, but another bill would extend this period to 48 hours for all women.

“Forcing a woman to wait even longer to receive medical care does nothing to protect her health,” Spencer said.

The introduction of these four extreme bills came as a surprise to some observers. Mia Raven, a local pro-choice activist, said she was “blindsided” by the new bills after expecting that the legislature would only deal with the health-care conscience bill passed by the house last month.

“We are under siege,” she said. “Alabama has been taken hostage by the GOP, period.”

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  • L-dan

    Isn’t it kind of part of the definition of ‘informed consent’ that the information is actual, you know, information? I’ve always assumed that meant *factual* information.

    Obviously the forced-birthers have gotten tired of the (to them) slow pace of their ability to chip away at abortion access and have decided to just run full tilt at the goalpoasts.

    • Renee Goodwin

      Not to forced birthers, christian nutters, or Reichwing hypocrites, they could care less about actual facts

  • rosie

    Ladies it is time for a sex strike in Alabama.

    Just show those Alabama men that when your reproductive rights are restricted, so will theirs!

    • Shan

      The problem with that idea is that it’s exactly what the far-right wingnutters want: WOMEN STOP HAVING TEH SEX NOW!!

      • lady_black

        Women are NOT going to stop having sex. They will stop having sex with MEN. He doesn’t respect you, or considers you to be a disposable fetal container? Time to introduce him to the partner he deserves… his right palm. We women always have other options, and we can have more than one orgasm.

    • Ramanusia

      How would that show them anything? They’d just go on tapping their feet in bathrooms a la Larry Craig, and hire out, a la Ted Haggard (or Vitter, depending on how hypocritical they are.)

    • HeilMary1

      Birth and restaurant service strikes might be better — no more deadly, disfiguring and bankrupting childbirths by Alabama women and no seating and serving of food in Alabama restaurants to these holy mother killers. Public shunning is what these monsters deserve.

  • Ramanusia

    It’s unconstitutional on its face. Period. Can someone figure out just how much taxpayer money these blatant failures of legislation are COSTING taxpayers?

  • Renee Goodwin

    Really, really cute, appointing a lawyer for a six week old embryo, how in the blazes does that make any sense? Putting the legal rights of a grown woman against imaginary legal rights afforded to a few grams of living tissue in her womb, when that tissue is not even far enough along to determine if the woman could even carry it to term, it is too soon to tell if the embryo is going to be viable anyway, and the embryo can’t survive without the woman, and forcing victims of rape and incest to carry those pregnancies to term is just plain evil, no woman should be forced to carry the spawn of a rapist or a child molester to term

  • Plum Dumpling

    It is time to go all Pussy Riot on these folks.

  • lady_black

    I have NEVER HEARD of “perinatal hospice,” and by definition there is no such thing. No one can provide hospice care to a fetus, EVER. What is that even supposed to mean? Keeping women “doped up” so they stay pregnant with a dying fetus? Holy laudanum, Batman!

    • Renee Goodwin

      There is no such thing, it is a ploy to convince women pregnant with non-viable/damaged fetuses that have no change of living more than a few hours after birth to give birth instead of having an abortion. Only another way to pressure and guilt trip women. Which means that a woman would be expected to go through the risks of pregnancy and childbirth, for a child that is expected to die, risking her own life, and dooming the infant to be born and suffer, who knows how much pain, before dying shortly after birth

      • lady_black

        You’re correct. I Googled this out of pure morbid curiosity, and the best I can obtain is that “perinatal hospice” Is just another word for “grief counseling.” Not a bad idea in itself for parents to seek grief counseling for a perinatal loss. But these services are available through many providers, often free of charge through a regular hospice organization, whether you have an abortion or not. Thus they aren’t valid excuses to compel women to carry a doomed pregnancy to term unless she wants to handle it that way. True hospice care isn’t possible for a fetus. The whole thing is a bogus scam.

  • P. McCoy

    EWTN, the hotbed of Catholic anti choice terrorism is located in Irondale, Alabama. Time to do. RICO on these people ;however what effect can one truly have when people that live in this state are so obviously all for a Taliban like war against women, in the name of the fetus idol. I wonder how much governmental aid goes to help poor women and children that are born.

    • Göran Lund

      Probably nothing. Why should anti choicers, women haters and GOPers care for those groups, that are the prime targets of their sick hate?

  • anja

    “Alabama has been taken hostage by the GOP, period.” Not just Alabama, but most of the USA is suffering under the GOP’s boot.

  • pam95650

    This is total BS. But I’m sure there’s no buyers remorse when it comes to the politicians Alabama elects.

  • Renee Goodwin

    I think it was on Huffpo that I saw a story about this, and it mentioned that if an abused teen is trying to get a judicial bypass, that her abusers will know about the hearing and have a right to be in the courtroom, that just made me shudder