MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama House is set to debate four abortion bills Tuesday, including a "fetal heartbeat" measure that supporters and opponents agree will likely face an immediate court challenge if it becomes law — and in some ways that's exactly what proponents want.
The bill would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Two states that enacted similar fetal heartbeat laws, Arkansas and North Dakota, had those laws temporarily enjoined by federal judges. Abortion opponents see that kind of legal action as a first step toward a U.S. Supreme Court case that could ultimately destroy the legal foundation for abortion.
Ohio-based anti-abortion activist Janet Porter, who pushed for the nation's first fetal heartbeat legislation in Ohio in 2011, said she came up with the idea in the hopes of sparking court cases to challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
"We need to quit regulating abortion and bring it to an end. If ... we can't rescue every child from the burning building, let's get as many as we can," Porter said in an interview.
If Alabama's fetal heartbeat bill wins final passage, it will tie Alabama with North Dakota as having the most stringent abortion ban in the country, opponents of the legislation said.
The Ohio legislation failed, but Arkansas approved a 12-week ban, prohibiting abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected using an abdominal ultrasound. North Dakota followed with a law similar to what is proposed in Alabama, to ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected at all.
"This legislature is yet again putting the state of Alabama at risk of litigation," said Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama. "Abortion is a constitutionally protected right for women in the United States of America. That law would virtually prohibit all abortions in Alabama."
Nikema Williams, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the proposal would ban abortions beginning at about six weeks, before many women realize they are pregnant.
Both the Arkansas and North Dakota laws were met with lawsuits and put on temporary hold by the courts.
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said the threat of lawsuits should not determine which laws are passed.
"I'm sure we have the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center and all sorts of liberal organizations that will challenge whatever we do. That's not going to prevent us from doing what is right and to protect life," Hubbard said.
Bill sponsor Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs, said a heartbeat is universally equated with life and should be protected.
The Alabama bill would allow exemptions to save the life of the mother, but not for rape or incest.
"It is a life, no matter what the circumstances are," McClurkin said.
Fetal heartbeat legislation has been introduced recently in Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio, said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute. The reproductive rights think-tank tracks state policies on Medicaid abortions.
Three other abortion bills are also set for debate Tuesday in the Alabama House.
Current Alabama law requires women to receive information, either in person or through the mail, about abortion alternatives and possible adverse outcomes 24 hours before having an abortion. A proposal up for debate would increase the waiting period to 48 hours.
"It's giving her a little bit more time to consider her actions, what the outcome will be and what the risks are," bill sponsor Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, said.
Another bill would require parents to submit a birth certificate or other proof of parenthood when giving consent for their daughter to have an abortion. Proponents of the bill told a House committee it would ensure that the adult accompanying the girl to the abortion clinic is actually the parent. Opponents said many people lack a copy of a birth certificate and the parental relationship could be established through other means.
Alabama requires minors seeking an abortion to have permission from their parent or a judge. For judicial permission, the bill would require minors to file the legal paperwork in their home county. Currently, they can request judicial permission in the county where the abortion will be performed. The bill would also give the court the ability to appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the fetus.
A final bill would require women seeking an abortion because of lethal fetal anomalies to be advised about the availability of perinatal hospice services.
Watson called all four bills a "disrespectful" attempt to put up barriers to women seeking an abortion.
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