After six hours of, at times, heated and racially charged debate
Tuesday, the Alabama house passed four bills restricting abortion, the most severe of which would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected and with no exceptions for rape or incest.
The heartbeat bill’s sponsor, Mary McClurkin (R-Indian Springs), came under heavy fire from her Black colleagues after she compared her bill to the Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended legal racial segregation in the United States. The point of McClurkin’s remarks appeared to be that abortion constitutes “discrimination” against a fetus, and that bills like hers could lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as Brown overturned Plessy v. Ferguson.
“I am absolutely insulted as a Black woman, as a member of the House of Representatives, that you as a white female would stand here in my face and say that this bill has something to do with the Brown v. Board of Education case from 1954,” said Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Jefferson) on the house floor. “That has nothing to do with a woman’s right to choose.”
Rep. Alvin Holmes (D-Montgomery) accused his anti-choice colleagues of hypocrisy and racism. “Ninety-nine percent of the all of the white people in here are going to raise their hand that they are against abortion,” he said. “On the other hand, 99 percent of the whites who are sitting in here now, if their daughter got pregnant by a Black man, they are going to make their daughter have an abortion.”
McClurkin also rejected an amendment that would have created exceptions for rape or incest.
“Your people raped my people from back in the day,” said Givan, referring to an earlier discussion about rape. “You don’t have anyone that was spit on, anyone that was beaten … anyone that could not go into a public facility because of their race.”
When pressed by a colleague as to whether she thought her bill would actually end abortions, McClurkin said, “I don’t think it will stop it. Maybe it would make the pregnant mother think about what she’s doing.”
The house, which has a supermajority of Republican representatives, passed all four bills with overwhelming margins. The other three bills would increase the waiting period to obtain an abortion from 24 to 48 hours; dramatically increase the burden on minors seeking abortion whether with or without parental permission; and force women with doomed pregnancies to hear about the option to use “fetal hospice” services that do not currently exist in the state of Alabama.
“Although the fetal heartbeat bill is the most controversial, it should be noted that all of the bills present grave consequences to women,” Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama, said in a statement.
Only North Dakota has approved a law as stringent as Alabama’s heartbeat bill, which would ban abortions as early as five or six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. But North Dakota’s six-week ban has been blocked by courts while lawsuits against it proceed. Bans on abortion before viability (roughly 24 weeks) are considered a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, and some anti-choice advocates see passing such bans as a strategy to ultimately overturn Roe.
All four bills now move to the state senate. Watson of the ACLU told RH Reality Check that while the senate also has a Republican supermajority, she doesn’t think the bills will pass quite as easily there.
“I think it’s possible that they all pass the senate, but we sure are going to work hard to make sure they don’t,” Watson said.