MONTGOMERY, Alabama — The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday approved several abortion restrictions, including one that bans them once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
Bill sponsor Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs, said a heartbeat is universally accepted as an indication of life and should be protected.
"Abortion is taking a life," McClurkin said.
If it wins final approval, the legislation, which is now going to be considered in the Senate, would tie Alabama with North Dakota as having the most stringent abortion law in the country. It is a direct challenge to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable. Opponents called the bill blatantly unconstitutional and destined to be held up by the courts.
"In the Bible that I read, if a woman is in that situation, it is between her and her God," Rep. Marry Moore, D-Birmingham, said during the debate on the multiple bills. "The 105 members that make up this body, none of them have been labeled as God."
The National Institutes of Health's website for patients says an embryonic or fetal heartbeat can be heard when a woman is six to seven weeks pregnant. A doctor who performs an abortion when a heartbeat is present would be guilty of a Class C felony, under the bill.
North Dakota approved a similar law last year, but a federal judge put it on hold while the legal challenge plays out in court. Arkansas approved a 12-week ban that was also enjoined.
Some proponents of fetal heartbeat laws have said they hope to spark a series of court cases in the hopes of eventually outlawing abortion.
"In Alabama, we will fight tooth and nail to preserve and protect the life of the unborn until the liberal, activist Supreme Court decision making abortion legal in the United States is overturned," Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said.
Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, said the state would end up spending money it can't afford on a lawsuit. Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said the bill might as well be a stimulus package for lawyers.
"We already know this is unconstitutional before you even vote on it. But you decide you want to vote on this so you can go back home and say, 'Look what I did,'" Bracy said.
The bill gives an exemption to save the life of the mother but not an exemption for rape or incest. McClurkin said the unborn fetus is "a life regardless of the painful, painful circumstances."
Representatives also approved a bill to extend the waiting period before an abortion from 24 to 48 hours. House members approved the bill by a 76-23 vote.
Current Alabama law requires women to receive information, either in person or through certified mail, about abortion alternatives and possible adverse outcomes 24 hours before having an abortion,
"I just want to give that unborn child and that mother who is about to make a horrible decision that she will live with for rest of her life, a little bit more of an opportunity," Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, said.
Opposed lawmakers said that women could make their own decisions without the required waiting period.
More than 20 states require a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Two states, Utah and South Dakota, require 72-hour waiting periods.
House members also approved a bill to require women seeking an abortion because of lethal fetal anomalies to be advised about the availability of perinatal hospice services.
A fourth abortion-related bill approved Tuesday night would require parents to submit a birth certificate or other proof of parenthood when giving consent for their daughter to have an abortion. Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said the bill is needed to make sure that the adult accompanying the girl to the clinic is actually the parent.
The bills were approved after more than six hours of debate. All four now move to the Alabama Senate.
Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, while the fetal heartbeat bill is getting the most attention, all four bills have grave consequences for women.
"All of these bills are another attempt by politicians to own a woman's body. Reproductive health choices should only be made by the woman, her doctor, her family and her faith_not by the opinions and faiths of unqualified elected officials," Watson said.