Alabama lawmakers introduce abortion ban mirroring Texas ‘heartbeat bill’

Alabama

A woman in an doctors uniform holds a poster that reads “Abortion is Healthcare” as abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — This week, Alabama lawmakers pre-filed a house bill that would ban abortion after a “fetal heartbeat” has been detected and allow civil suits against anyone who performs, aids or abets an abortion.

HB 23, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jamie Kiel of HD 18, specifically states that an abortion can not be performed “if a fetal heartbeat has been detected or if no test for a fetal heartbeat has been performed, except in circumstances where a medical emergency exists.”

Additionally, the bill states it would allow civil suits to be brought against “any person who performs or induces an abortion or who knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing costs of an abortion.”

Despite defining “fetal heartbeat,” a term physicians and reproductive health experts have called “misleading,” the bill does not define a medical emergency or give an example of a situation that would permit an abortion to be performed legally after a “fetal heartbeat” has been detected.

The bill does not provide any exceptions for abortions performed on patients who become pregnant due to rape, incest or abuse. It does, however, provide protection for those who commit such crimes, shielding them from the civil suits permitted against anyone who “performs, aids or abets” an abortion.

“Notwithstanding any other law,” the bill reads, “a civil action under this section may not be brought by a person who impregnated the abortion patient through an act of rape, sexual abuse, incest, or any other sex offense referenced in Section 15-20A-5, Code of Alabama 1975.”

HB 23 strongly mirrors the so-called “Heartbeat Bill” passed in the Texas legislature earlier this year.

Just this week, the Texas ban was declared unconstitutional by a state judge, and on Friday Dec. 10, SCOTUS ruled that clinics in Texas could sue Texas licensing officials over the ban. The ban still stays in effect, however, and continues to bring “catastrophic consequences,” according to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Alabama’s nearly identical legislation is just one of the wide-reaching consequences of the Texas law.

“We know when these kinds of laws happen in one state, they have a ripple effect,” said Robin Marty, director of operations at the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa. WAWC is one of only three clinics in Alabama that offers abortion services.

The clinic is already providing care for pregnant people across the region as the Texas laws forces pregnant people to seek reproductive healthcare out of state, said Marty. But operations aren’t the only aspect of reproductive care disrupted by similar laws.

“(HB 23) is going to completely destroy the doctor-patient relationship… they’ll be adversaries of each other because you never know if it’s that patient’s family, a friend they were talking to or a stranger who will be the one to say something,” Marty shared.

The bill will also increase the likelihood of negative health outcomes for pregnant people, which is something patients in Alabama can’t afford due to the abysmal state of healthcare and lack of Medicaid expansion, Marty explained.

“People need to understand: this is Alabama, and there’s a lack of any sort of preventative health care which means people who get pregnant, purposeful or accidentally, are going to be far more likely to have negative health outcomes.”

The ban on abortions after the detection of a “fetal heartbeat” greatly compromises a pregnant person’s health as well as their bodily autonomy, narrowing their options to extreme outcomes, according to Marty.

“When your choice is to continue a pregnancy that could kill you or making a choice that would put you in  jail, what kind of choice is that?” Marty said.

Marty, who also wrote the “The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America,” says there are things that can be done by other legislatures in the house to help curb the harmful effects of the bill.

“There are bills out there that essentially say, ‘We will not investigate any bad pregnancy outcome.’ So regardless of what happens in a pregnancy or if someone has some sort of bad pregnancy outcome, there will not be an investigation,” Marty explained. “If you look at the bills, they can be mirrored. Let’s see our politicians codify that.”

When asked to comment on the anti-choice bill, the Alabama Democrats facilitated an interview with Rep. Rafferty of HD 54 in Jefferson Co. Asked if Alabama Democrats have a strategy to combat the bill, Rafferty told CBS 42 that “The house democrats will continue to focus on healthcare, education and access to opportunities that improve life for all Alabamians.”

Even if HB 23 doesn’t pass, Marty said the state and country at large need to be prepared for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, something she and other abortion activists have been predicting far before this summer.

“This isn’t going to the bill that comes down on abortion, only because I do believe that the supreme court will overturn Roe v Wade. Be prepared for that idea and be prepared for it now.”

Marty and other activists recommend pre-provisioning abortion pills and donating to local abortion funds like Alabama’s Yellowhammer Fund to prepare for a post-Roe America and contribute to reproductive justice.

Rep. Kiel could not be reached for comment on HB 23.

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