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Ala. Rep. Files Legislation Targeting Northern Ala.'s Only Abortion Clinic

Ala. Rep. Files Legislation Targeting Northern Ala.'s Only Abortion Clinic

April 24, 2015 — Alabama Rep. Ed Henry (R) on Tuesday filed a measure (HB 527) that would prevent the state's Department of Public Health from licensing abortion clinics or reproductive health care centers that are located within 2,000 feet of a public school, the Huntsville Times reports (Edgemon, Huntsville Times, 4/22).

The measure threatens to close the Huntsville Women's Clinic, the sole clinic in Northern Alabama, which is located almost directly across from a school (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/25/14). According to the Florence Times Daily, the bill also would force most of the state's abortion clinics to close (Sell/Edwards, Florence Times Daily, 4/22).

Background

The Huntsville clinic in October 2014 reopened in a new location after closing in June 2014 because its old location did not comply with a state law (HB 57) that requires abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers.

The Christian Coalition of Alabama filed suit against the clinic, arguing that it should not be allowed to open unless it applies to be zoned as a surgical center. In November 2014, Madison County Circuit Judge Alan Mann denied CCA's request for a temporary injunction and dismissed the case. He said the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case and that the zoning board acted in its normal capacity when it zoned the clinic.

In response to the ruling, CCA's James Henderson said the group would ask local lawmakers to support a measure that would require a 2,000-foot minimum distance between a school and an abortion clinic (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/25/14).

Lawmakers File School Zoning Measure

Henry filed such a measure on Tuesday. The bill is co-sponsored by state Reps. Terri Collins (R) and Ken Johnson (R) (Florence Times Daily, 4/22).

The bill would prohibit DPH from issuing or renewing health center licenses to abortion or reproductive health clinics located with 2,000 feet of a public school's campus or property (Huntsville Times, 4/22). According to the Times Daily, the bill does not specify what constitutes a public school or whether the measure would apply to property owned by state colleges or universities (Florence Times Daily, 4/22).

According to Henderson, CCA drafted the legislation with the intent to close the Huntsville clinic. Henderson added that he believes the legislation would survive a legal challenge because it would only affect clinics seeking an operating license (Huntsville Times, 4/22).

Meanwhile, Henry said he "did not know" the measure "would impact closing (a clinic)," but he noted that such legislation had been requested "by several of the [antiabortion-rights] groups around the state."

Abortion-Rights Supporters Voice Concerns

Dalton Johnson, clinic administrator at HWC, said the clinic currently is the only one in Alabama that has "a physician on staff [who] actually does the procedures and has admitting privileges at a hospital." He added that if a legal challenge against a state law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals is not successful, the clinic would be "the only one left in the entire state, and now they are coming at us with this legislation to try to close us down" (Florence Times Daily, 4/22).

Meanwhile, Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said the bill would be subject to litigation if it becomes law. She noted, "You can't pass a law taking away somebod[y's] business just because you don't like it."

Mia Raven, legislative affairs director for Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, said she was not surprised the bill was filed and is "always ready for ... attacks ... that target Alabamian women and their reproductive healthcare." She added, "We remain as committed as ever to fight for women and their Constitutional right to make their own decisions about their healthcare along with maintaining unfettered access to reproductive services in Alabama" (Hunstville Times, 4/22).