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Ala. Gov. Bentley Poised To Sign Abortion Clinic Regulations

Ala. Gov. Bentley Poised To Sign Abortion Clinic Regulations

April 4, 2013 — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) on Wednesday affirmed that he will sign legislation (HB 57) to impose stricter regulations on abortion clinics, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The state House and Senate gave final approval to the bill on Tuesday, sending it to the governor. Bentley said his lawyers are reviewing the measure to ensure there are no unanticipated changes since his previous endorsement of it (Rawls, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/3).

The measure would require that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals and that abortion clinics meet the same building standards as ambulatory clinics. In addition, the bill would prohibit anyone other than a physician from dispensing medication abortion drugs, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine for providers violating the requirement (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/7).

The bill also would require that abortion providers ask minors younger than age 16 to identify the man involved in the pregnancy. If the minor responds and the man is more than two years older than the minor, providers would be required to report the case to police. Providers also would be required to report the names of all minors younger than age 14 who seek abortions to the state Department of Human Resources (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/3).

Lawmakers rejected an amendment to the bill that would have barred hospitals from rejecting doctors' requests for admitting privileges solely because they perform abortions (Gates, Reuters, 4/2).

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Bentley -- a physician -- and state Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin (R) -- the bill's sponsor -- claimed the measure would make abortion safer for women.

Opponents said the true intent of the legislation is to shut down abortion clinics by imposing excessive regulations. They added that the bill could result in a legal battle akin to one in Mississippi, where a similar law threatens to close a clinic that could not meet the admitting privileges requirements. The facility is the only abortion clinic in Mississippi.

However, Bentley said the requirement should not be a problem. "If a doctor cannot obtain admitting privileges in the area where they practice, then they probably should not be practicing there," he added (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/3).

Alabama is the latest of several states to enact stricter regulations on abortion clinics. Although early abortion bans often receive more attention, the clinic regulations can sharply curb abortion access, said Carole Joffe, a sociologist at the University of California-San Francisco who studies abortion laws.

"Those other laws may sound more drastic," Joffe said of the bans, "but one assumes the Supreme Court will not uphold them." She noted, "It's the more reasonable-sounding things like hallway width, or requiring a doctor to have local admitting privileges, that some courts will possibly approve," adding, "These have the capacity to be much more devastating to the ability to provide abortion care" (Eckholm, New York Times, 4/3).