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Ala. Gov. To Sign 20-Week Abortion Ban; La., Pa. Bills Would Regulate Abortion Clinics

Ala. Gov. To Sign 20-Week Abortion Ban; La., Pa. Bills Would Regulate Abortion Clinics

June 15, 2011 — Proponents and opponents of an Alabama bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy are assessing the potential effects of the measure, the AP/Albany Times Union reports (Johnson, AP/Albany Times Union, 6/13). A spokesperson for Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said the governor intends to sign the bill into law by the end of the week (AP/Columbus Republic, 6/14).

State lawmakers on June 9 passed the bill based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point in pregnancy. 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 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/13).

Kay Scott, president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the legislation could be dangerous for women with high-risk pregnancies, "who know that their own lives or their fetuses are at risk." These women "must have every medical option available to them -- including ending the pregnancy -- to consider in consultation with medical professionals, religious advisers, family members and other people they trust."

Alabama Health Officer Don Williamson said, "This is certainly not going to stop abortions in Alabama," where few procedures are performed at or beyond 20 weeks, but he noted that the bill's reporting requirement "is far more detailed than in the current law." Barbara Buchanan, director of a Birmingham Planned Parenthood clinic, said that abortion is already a "very regulated procedure" and that the requirements "add a new requirement and a new cost." She added, "We don't need another layer of bureaucracy" (AP/Albany Times Union, 6/13).

La. Senate Approves Abortion Bill After Modifications

The Louisiana Senate on Tuesday voted to approve a bill (HB 636) that would require abortion clinics to provide women seeking abortion care with information about alternatives, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. Lawmakers removed a provision from the House-approved bill that would have changed a state law that allows health care providers to deny services based on their moral beliefs.

The removal of the provision "sets up a late-session showdown" between the chambers as they try to reconcile the two versions of the bill, according to the Times-Picayune. Current law states that "any person has the right not to participate in, and no person shall be required to participate in any health care service that violates his conscience to the extent that patient access to health care is not compromised." The House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hoffman (R), would eliminate the qualifier that a health care provider's decision cannot threaten a patient's right to care. The law only applies to certain services and procedures -- including embryonic stem cell research, abortion and the dispensation of abortifacient drugs -- though the law does not define abortifacient. Opponents of the bill say the changes in the House version could restrict access to birth control pills, including emergency contraception (Barrow, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 6/15).

The bill also would require a new state website about alternatives to abortion care and require the state's six abortion clinics to post signs about alternatives. The signs would say that it is illegal to force women to have an abortion; that private and public agencies can provide support during and after pregnancy; that fathers are liable for child support; and that adoptive parents may cover medical costs associated with pregnancy (AP/New Orleans Times-Picayune, 6/14).

The bill now goes back to the House, and if it does not approve the Senate version, the two chambers would convene a conference committee to draft a compromise. Both chambers would need to approve the same version of the bill before it advances to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 6/15).

Pa. Senate Agrees To Add Study Amendment to Abortion Clinics Bill

The Pennsylvania Senate on Monday voted 31-19 to approve a "study" amendment to a bill (SB 732) that would require abortion clinics to abide by the same regulations as freestanding ambulatory surgical centers, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Worden/McCullough, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/14). The bill has advanced in the Legislature on the heels of a scandal involving Philadelphia abortion provider Kermit Gosnell, who was charged by a grand jury for killing a woman and infants while performing illegal abortions in unsafe and filthy conditions.

Proponents of the measure said it will address problems found during recent inspections of abortion clinics across the state, while opponents said it would place onerous requirements on abortion clinics and force many to close, creating an indirect burden on women seeking abortion care (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/12).

The amendment -- which was introduced by Sen. Pat Vance (R), the underlying bill’s main sponsor was approved largely along party lines. It would require the independent Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the cost effects of the additional standards on abortion clinics within 90 days of the bill's enactment. The passage of the amendment cleared the way for a final vote on the bill, which was expected to be held as early as Tuesday (Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/14).