Senate committee approves 48 hour waiting period for abortions

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Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle

Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle

A Senate committee Wednesday afternoon approved legislation extending the waiting period for abortions from 24 to 48 hours, a week after the House of Representatives passed a package of anti-abortion legislation.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, would extend the current waiting period to allow physicians to provide the mother with materials on abortion, abortion alternatives; the medical risks of abortion and carrying a pregnancy to term and and adoption.

Three other pieces of legislation in the House package did not come to a vote, but were made subject to a public hearing intially called for Henry’s bill. The legislation included legislation that would ban abortion upon detection of a fetal heartbeat; a bill that would require more documentation from minors seeking abortions and a third that would require doctors to counsel women about fetal hospice options for those seeking abortions due to a lethal anomaly.

All the legislation, except for the documentations for minors, would impose criminal penalties on doctors who violated the provisions. Under Henry’s bill, a doctor who violated the act would be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $3,000 fine. A second offense would be considered a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $6,000 fine; subsequent offenses would be considered a Class C felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Abortion rights activists said the waiting period bill suggested that women seeking abortions did not take time to weigh their decisions before seeking an abortion, and was intended to restrict access to abortion. There are currently five abortion clinics operating in the state, and actvists said the waiting periods overlook the fact many Alabama women must travel and make overnight accommodations to obtain abortions.

“This bill is a bullying tactic designed to make women change their mind,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It implies women are stupid, and that we can’t understand or make informed decision about our own bodies.”

JoAnn Cummings of Decatur said that restricting abortion access had implications for poverty and hunger in the country.

“These women know their limitations,” she said. “They know what they can handle, and they know how many mouths they can feed.”

Anti-abortion activists said the restriction would give women additional time to consider their decisions. Hunter Mills, a Troy University freshman who spoke at a House debate on the issue last month, said that his biological mother, a teeenager at the time, decided against an abortion when she conceived him after a party in 1994, and elected to put him up for adoption.

“Enforce new regulations so it will create time for women to consider and determine whether to terminate their pregnancies,” he said.

Cheryl Ciamarra of Alabama Citizens for Life and a candidate for the State House of Representatives, said women “don’t really have time to emotionally react” during the current 24-hour period.

Senators on the committee had relatively few comments; Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, was the only no vote on the legislation. Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, who voted for the bill and called himself pro-life, expressed reservations about the possibility of court challenges to the bills.

“I do not want us passing legislation that says ‘We’re going to throw it out there to force the Supreme Court to give us a decision,” he said. “There’s 50 states out there, and (we have a) limited budget.”

The other three bills had not been sent to the committee as of Wednesday afternoon; Senate Health Committee chairman Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said he planned to bring those up for a vote next week. Abortion rights activists criticized Reed for including the other three bills in the public hearing. Reed said he was trying to accommodate everyone who had traveled to speak on Wednesday.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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