published Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Stricter abortion standards for Alabama moving ahead

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A bill setting stricter standards for Alabama’s five abortion clinics is getting closer to becoming law.

The Senate Health Committee approved the bill 7-3 Wednesday, with all yes votes coming from Republican men and the no votes from the two women on the committee and a Democratic man.

The House approved the bill 73-23 on Feb. 19. It now goes to the Senate for what could be a final vote. Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said Tuesday he will sign the bill into law if the Legislature passes it.

Among several other provisions, the bill requires abortion clinics to use doctors who have approval to admit patients to hospitals in the same city. Some now use doctors from other cities that don’t have local hospital privileges. A similar law in Mississippi is threatening to close the state’s only abortion clinic.

“We urge the legislators to stop these onerous attacks on women’s rights,” said Nikema Williams, Planned Parenthood’s southeast vice president of public policy.

The sponsor, Republican Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin of Pelham, said she’s optimistic the Senate will pass it. She called the committee’s vote “an indication of support” in the Republican-controlled Senate.

McClurkin said her goal is to make abortion clinics safer.

The bill has been introduced in previous sessions without success, but it picked up supporters after Alabama’s oldest licensed abortion clinic, New Woman All Women in Birmingham, closed in May 2012. The operator agreed to shut down after being cited by the state health department for violations, including two patients being given overdoses of drugs and needing to be taken to a hospital.

The bill also sets stricter building requirements that match those for outpatient surgery centers, including wider halls and doors and better fire suppression systems. State Health Officer Don Williamson, whose office regulates abortion clinics, said most do not meet the stricter standards.

Abortion clinics also would be required to ask any girl under 16 the name and age of the person who got her pregnant. She doesn’t have to answer. If she does answer and the father is more than two years older, the clinic must report that to police for investigation of a possible sex crime. If the girl is younger than 14, the clinic must report her name to the state Department of Human Resources for review.

Proponents said the requirements are to protect against incest and against girls being lured into sex by older men.

Voting for the bill were Republican Sens. Paul Bussman of Cullman, Gerald Dial of Lineville, Jerry Fielding of Talladega, Cam Ward of Alabaster, Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills, Tom Whatley of Auburn, and Greg Reed of Jasper.

Voting against it were Democratic Sens. Linda Coleman of Birmingham and Billy Beasley of Clayton and independent Sen. Harri Anne Smith of Slocomb. Smith, a former Republican, questioned whether the bill was really about safety for women because she said it focused more on building conditions than medical care.

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