On Wednesday, the Alabama state legislature gave final approval to a bill that would extend the waiting period for having an abortion from 24 to 48 hours, as three other anti-choice bills, which passed out of the state senate health committee on Tuesday, could see a senate floor vote before close of session Thursday.
The waiting period bill, HB 489, passed on a 24-10 vote and now heads to the governor for review.
“The passage of this bill shows that many state legislators believe that women of Alabama are incapable of making their own reproductive decisions,” Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama, said in a statement.
Studies have shown that the vast majority of women who come into a clinic seeking an abortion have already made up their minds and are not swayed by state-mandated attempts to make them reconsider.
The three other bills that passed the health committee on Tuesday all passed on a 7-1 vote, with the only nay vote coming from the only woman on the committee, Linda Coleman (D-Jefferson).
Those three bills would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected; make it more difficult for minors to obtain an abortion, with or without parental permission; and require women with doomed pregnancies to hear about the option to use perinatal hospice services rather than terminate the pregnancy. Such hospice services do not currently exist in the state.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told the Associated Press that he expects only the bill dealing with minors seeking abortions to have a senate floor vote on Thursday, and called it a priority for the senate’s Republican caucus.
Watson of the ACLU told RH Reality Check that this bill “would just make it practically impossible to get an abortion if [a minor] had to go through the judicial bypass service.” The minor would have to prove her maturity, without using her ability to navigate the court system as evidence, and prove that she has been counseled on alternatives to abortion. She would also risk running into people she knows at the courthouse if she lives in a small county, because she must go to the courthouse in the county in which she lives. All of that is if the minor wants to avoid telling her parents; if a parent is supportive, however, they have to provide a certified birth certificate proving they are in fact the child’s parent. “Well, that takes time to get a certified birth certificate!” Watson said. “You have to fill out the paperwork, go to the county the child was born in, and get it from there. That is just an added barrier.”
If the “heartbeat” ban were to pass, Watson said, it would end up costing the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, if not more, because the bill would be
challenged immediately in court for unconstitutionally banning almost all abortions. That’s money the state can’t afford, she said, given that it hasn’t given teachers a raise in six years and has its prisons filled to double capacity.
And the perinatal hospice bill, Watson said, is callous because it burdens women, both emotionally and practically (it also requires a 48-hour waiting period), who have gone “from planning a nursery to planning a funeral. She has to be reminded of that every time the baby moves, or doesn’t. It’s one of the cruelest things I have ever seen.”
The best hope for keeping any of the three remaining bills from passing, Watson said, is to keep them off of the senate floor. Once they come up for a vote, she said, they will almost certainly pass, and the governor will almost certainly sign them.
“It’s not just a Republican supermajority [in the legislature], it’s a Tea Party supermajority,” Watson said. “And they just plow through and do all sorts of things. That’s why we’re in federal court right now over the TRAP [targeted regulation of abortion providers] lawsuit.” A trial was ordered Monday, and a May 19 trial date announced Wednesday, in that case, which challenges the constitutionality of new laws that threaten to shutter three-fifths of the state’s abortion clinics.