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'Fetal Heartbeat' Abortion Ban, Other Restrictions Advance in Ala.

'Fetal Heartbeat' Abortion Ban, Other Restrictions Advance in Ala.

March 5, 2014 — The Alabama House on Tuesday passed four antiabortion-rights measures, including a bill (HB 490) that would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, Reuters reports.

All four bills now proceed to the state Senate for consideration (Gates/Dickinson, Reuters, 3/4).

Fetal Heartbeat Bill

HB 490 would require a physician to check for a fetal heartbeat before an abortion and make it a felony to perform an abortion if a heartbeat is detectable (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/27). The measure was approved in 73-29 vote.

If approved in the state Senate, the bill would make Alabama the first state to have such a law in effect. Similar laws enacted in North Dakota and Arkansas have been blocked while lawsuits against the legislation continue, Reuters reports. According to Reuters, the Alabama bill, if enacted, will "almost guarantee" a legal challenge.

Opponents of the bill noted that the fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as five or six weeks into a pregnancy, which is before many women realize that they are pregnant. Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, said the bill "would be the most extreme [abortion] law by far in the country," adding that it is "blatantly" unconstitutional.

State Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin (R), the bill's sponsor, defended the bill, saying, "If your heart is beating, that means you are alive" (Reuters, 3/4).

Other Antiabortion-Rights Bills

The Alabama House on Tuesday also approved a bill (HB 489) that would extend the state's 24-hour waiting period between an initial consultation and an abortion to 48 hours (Sell, Florence Times Daily, 3/4).

In addition, the chamber advanced a bill (HB 494) that would increase parental involvement when a pregnant minor is seeking a judge's permission to obtain an abortion without informing her parents (Reuters, 3/4). The bill would require parents to provide a minor's certified birth certificate. It also would prohibit "hearsay" in a minor's testimony if she seeks a judicial bypass from the parental consent requirement, meaning that a minor could not tell the judge that her parents threatened abuse. In addition, parents accused of abuse would be permitted to attend the hearing (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/27).

The state House also approved a bill (HB 493) that would impose a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion if a woman is told that the fetus has a disorder that is incompatible with survival outside the womb (Reuters, 3/4). It also would require physicians to tell women in such cases that perinatal hospice services are available. If a woman declines the services and chooses to end her pregnancy, she would have to sign a form acknowledging her decision (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/27).

Nikema Williams, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast, called the measure "a cruel bill," adding that there were no such perinatal hospices in the state (Reuters, 3/4).