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Ala., Texas Advance Abortion Bills; La. Tables Abortion Ban; Va. Considers Clinic Rules

Ala., Texas Advance Abortion Bills; La. Tables Abortion Ban; Va. Considers Clinic Rules

June 13, 2011 — Alabama lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks gestation based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point in pregnancy, Reuters reports. The measure, which passed with large majorities in both chambers on the final day of the session, makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

Current state law allows abortion until the fetus is viable, usually between 24 and 26 weeks. The legislation, which now goes to Gov. Robert Bentley (R) for his signature, would make it a felony to perform an abortion after 20 weeks unless there is a risk of death or substantial physical harm to the woman. A physician found in violation could be barred from offering abortion services. Providers also would be required to report each abortion to a state database and compile an annual report.

Lawmakers also considered a separate bill that would have defined an implanted fertilized egg as a person, but the measure did not reach a final vote (Gargis, Reuters, 6/10).

La. Lawmakers Delay Planned Parenthood Funding Bill

The Louisiana House on Wednesday voted 65-30 to derail a measure (HB 645) that would have banned abortion in the state except when necessary to preserve the pregnant woman's life and prohibited state Medicaid funds from covering abortion with no exceptions, sending it back to the House Appropriations committee, the Baton Rouge Advocate's "Capitol News Bureau" reports. The bill aimed to block exceptions in the federal Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion by state Medicaid programs except in cases of rape or incest or to save the woman's life. The measure also would have defined life as beginning at fertilization and established that a "natural person" begins at the moment of conception.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Fannin (D) expressed concern that the measure would have put an estimated $4.5 billion in federal health care funds in jeopardy for violating federal Medicaid regulations. John LaBruzzo (R), the bill's sponsor, said sending the measure back to committee effectively blocks the legislation from passing before June 23, the last day of the legislative session (Sentell, "Capitol News Bureau," Baton Rouge Advocate, 6/9).

Meanwhile, the Senate postponed voting on a House-approved resolution (HCR 54) that would ask Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, "Capitol News Bureau" reports. State Rep. Frank Hoffman (R) asked the Senate Health and Welfare Committee to defer the resolution from further consideration until next week, when more committee members are expected to be present. Hoffman said the measure, which was approved by the House on May 23, would affirm that Louisiana does not support federal funding for Planned Parenthood (Ballard, "Capitol News Bureau," Baton Rouge Advocate, 6/9).

Texas House Approves Amendment To Block State Hospitals From Contracting With Abortion Providers

The Texas House on Wednesday voted 100-37 to approve an amendment that would deny state funds to public hospitals that perform abortions or have contracts with entities that provide abortion-related services, the Dallas Morning News reports. The amendment, added by Rep. Wayne Christian (R) to a health care bill, would prevent state-funded hospitals from forming affiliations with organizations that provide or refer for abortion-related care (Garrett, Dallas Morning News, 6/8).

Va. Health Board Considering Abortion Clinic Regulations

Abortion-rights opponents on Thursday asked the Virginia Board of Health to adopt abortion clinic regulations similar to those implemented in South Carolina, the AP/Washington Times reports (Potter, AP/Washington Times, 6/9).

In February, Virginia enacted a law (SB 924) that requires clinics that provide abortion care in the first-trimester to be regulated like hospitals instead of physician offices. The law takes effect on July 1 and requires the Board of Health to create new policies for all clinics that perform at least five first-trimester abortions per month. Abortion-rights advocates estimate that the new requirements would push 17 of the state's 21 clinics out of business (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/25).

In South Carolina, abortion providers are subject to periodic inspections and are required to fulfill a number of mandates, including maintaining administrative documents, licensing and equipment. Diana Deboe of the Virginia Coalition of Life told Virginia regulators to adopt these regulations, which have already been tested in the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which upheld the constitutionality of the South Carolina rules.

However, Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said the regulations left only three of 14 abortion clinics operating. Many clinics had to close because they could not afford to make the structural modifications needed, she said.

Joseph Hilbert, director of governmental and regulatory affairs for the health department, said the agency is reviewing how 22 other states regulate abortion clinics before developing Virginia's final rules. "We're taking a very careful look at those to see what we can learn from them," he said, adding that the department will present its proposed rules on Sept. 1. The board will vote on the regulations two weeks after the initial meeting (Washington Times, 6/9).