Bill to outlaw most abortions in Alabama to get hearing

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama lawmakers are set to hold a public hearing Wednesday on legislation before a House committee that seeks to outlaw almost all abortions in the state, what critics call one of the most extremely anti-abortion proposals in the country.

The bill would make performing an abortion a felony, punishable between 10 and 99 years in prison, although a woman would not be charged for having the procedure under the proposal. The legislation contains an exemption for the mother's health, but not for rape and incest. But critics said moves to criminalize most abortions in Alabama would come in direct conflict with Roe v. Wade — the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Proponents acknowledge that the measure — if passed by both legislative chambers and signed into law — would almost certainly to be struck down by lower courts. Nonetheless, they said, they hoped it would help spur the nation's highest court to revisit the landmark abortion decision.

"The goal of this bill is to address Roe. v. Wade," said Republican Rep. Terri Collins, the House bill's sponsor. A separate version is assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The House Health Committee has scheduled a public hearing Wednesday on the bill. The hearing is expected to bring heavy turnout from both sides and opponents have scheduled a morning demonstration at the Alabama Statehouse.

Emboldened by new conservatives on the Supreme Court, abortion opponents in several states are seeking to incite new legal fights in the hopes of challenging Roe v. Wade. The Alabama bill comes on the heels of several states considering or approving bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which occurs in about the sixth week of pregnancy. The Alabama bill would go further, banning most abortions from being performed anytime during a woman's pregnancy.

The public hearing is the first action on the proposed abortion ban since the proposals were introduced earlier this month in the House and Senate. The committee will decide whether to send the bill to the House floor. Collins said she believes a committee vote could come as early as Wednesday. The House bill has more than 60 co-sponsors in the Republican-dominated chamber with 105 members. No action has been scheduled yet on the Senate bill

"I believe the Roe v. Wade decision was based on a lack of information that the baby in a womb is a person," House sponsor Collins said.

Randall Marshall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said he expected any such legislation if it became law would be immediately challenged and struck down by the courts, ultimately leaving the state with substantial legal bills.

He called it "one of the most extreme anti-abortion bills in the country, to effectively outlaw abortions in flagrant violation of federal law."

Marshall also questioned the strategy of lawmakers by seeking such a bill.

"They are trying to tee this up as an opportunity for the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade and its progeny. There are already cases in the pipeline that will get to the Supreme Court long before this does," Marshall said.

Alabama has passed several abortion restrictions in recent years and seen them struck down by the federal courts. Marshall said the state was ordered to pay $1.7 million to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU after their successful challenge to a law requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges

The legislation also comes after Alabama voters wrote anti-abortion language into the state constitution, specifying that the state recognizes the "rights of unborn children." Some 59 % of voters approved the constitutional amendment in November.

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