By PHILLIP RAWLS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The Alabama Legislature may enact two new laws regulating abortions before its session ends tonight, but two other abortion bills, including one banning an abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, may fail.
The Senate voted 24-10 Wednesday evening to give final approval to a bill extending the waiting period from 24 hours to 48 hours after a woman receives information from an abortion clinic about the risks of abortion, gestational development, and abortion alternatives. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Ed Henry of Decatur cleared the House 76-34 in March and now goes to the governor for review.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the Senate will take up another House-passed abortion bill on its final meeting day Thursday. It would set new regulations for girls under 18 seeking abortions. He said that bill and Henry's bill were priorities for the Senate Republican Caucus.
But he said he doesn't expect the Senate to take up two other bills passed by the House. One would require women seeking an abortion because of lethal fetal anomalies to be advised about the availability of perinatal hospice services. The other would ban abortions when a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, which can occur at six or seven weeks.
North Dakota has passed a heartbeat bill and Arkansas has passed a 12-week ban. Both are being challenged in court. Marsh anticipates a similar challenge in Alabama if a heartbeat law is passed. "I would like to see what happens in those states before we spend valuable state dollars," he said.
"That makes sense for the taxpayers of Alabama," said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama.
The American Civil Liberties Union and others are suing state officials over an abortion law the Legislature passed last year. It requires doctors at abortion clinics to have approval to admit patients at nearby hospitals. A federal judge has put the law on hold and has scheduled a May 19 trial on the lawsuit in Montgomery.
In the Senate, the 48-hour bill drew support mostly from Republicans and opposition from Democrats.
Alabama is among more than 20 states that have required a 24-hour waiting period for abortions. Utah and South Dakota have 72-hour waits, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Cheryl Ciamarra, director of Alabama Citizens for Life, said a longer wait is needed. "We are hopeful that with this 48-hour reflection period, they can make decisions they can live with for the rest of their lives," she said.
Watson said, "It's time for Alabama's legislators to stop thinking of their wives, daughters and sisters as mechanical incubators. They are women who should be able to exercise their own free will and make decisions that are right for them, their family and in accordance with their individual faith."