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Alabama lawmakers are considering their next steps if the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) overturns Roe v. Wade, paving the way for states to decide if and how abortions are restricted.

Earlier this week, a leaked draft opinion from SCOTUS indicated there may be enough support to overturn the landmark decision.  The Court’s opinion could change before it is made official, which is expected this summer.

“If Roe v. Wade is overturned, I think our thought all along was that we would craft our own legislation that we thought was best for Alabama,” said Rep. Terri Collins (R- Decatur).

Collins sponsored the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, which was signed by the governor in 2019. It is among the strictest abortion laws in the nation. The act banned nearly all abortions, only offering an exception for a serious health risk to the mother. The law was blocked by a federal judge and never enforced.

Collins says that the 2019 law was simply aimed at overturning Roe and believes more exceptions should be available in Alabama.

“There would be people who want to keep a law that restrictive and that’s why you would have to take any legislation through that legislation process [again],” Collins said. “But, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, then the goal of [the Alabama Human Life Protection Act] would have already happened, so I would think Alabama would want to set up legislation that fits more how Alabamians look at it. And I think that would be that heartbeat bill.”

If Roe is overturned, Collins hopes to pass a bill similar to the one she introduced in previous years, which would wait to prohibit abortions until a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy. She also wants exceptions for rape and incest.

“I think those were important,” Collins said. “It even included a fetal anomaly in the child. I mean, it was the bill I felt like was best for our state, so we’ll just have to see what happens over the next few months as we follow this.”

Unless Gov. Kay Ivey calls a special legislative session to address abortion, Collins would have to wait until the 2023 legislative session to introduce her proposal.

Another possibility is for the state to take steps to enforce the Human Life Protection Act, as written.

“I’d like to follow Rep. Collins' lead there,” said Rep. Steve Clouse (R- Ozark). “She had the bill back in 2019, so I’d like to see the language she would come up with as far as the exceptions.”

Clouse, who chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, said he believes Collins’ heartbeat bill would have a lot of support.

When asked about the possibility of a special session this year, Clouse said it may be better to wait until 2023.

“With the election going on and new legislators coming in in November, the decision probably needs to take place in the next regular session,” Clouse said. 

Georgia, Ohio and South Carolina are among states that have already passed so-called heartbeat laws, which ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected. 

Alabama abortions by the numbers

The Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) most recently reported abortion data is from 2020. Some 5,713 abortions were performed in the state that year.

Of those performed in Alabama in 2020, 45% were performed in the first five weeks of pregnancy.

Some 30% of the women who sought abortions were white, while 67% were black. Another 3% identified as “other” or did not state a race.

“The numbers here and especially nationwide are so staggering that I don't dwell on them,” said Robyn Blessing, Executive Director of Life on Wheels. “In our ministry, we serve women one by one.”

Life on Wheels is a pro-life mobile clinic in Alabama offering ultrasounds and counseling. She believes the number of abortions in Alabama would be higher, if not for organizations like hers.

“I meet women all the time with so many regrets about abortions that they either had or participated in with friends and family,” Blessing said. “...Lawmakers in Alabama need to stand by the legislation that was passed that outlaws abortion.”

The West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa performed the most abortions, with 2,565 women going there for the procedure in 2020. The Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville performed 2,018 abortions. The Reproductive Health Services of Montgomery performed 899 abortions. A combined 231 abortions were performed at Planned Parenthood locations in Birmingham and Mobile.

The West Alabama Women’s Center (WAWC) plans to stay open if Roe is overturned.

“We will spend every day from now until the official ruling ensuring that anyone who wants an abortion can get it as quickly as possible for absolutely as long as we are legally allowed,” said Robin Marty, Operations Director for the WAWC. “When that is no longer an option, we will remain open as long as we can in order to provide a safe space for people who have attempted to manage their own abortions - or those who are having pregnancy complications and are concerned that they could be accused of trying to self-abort - so they can get the care they still need without fear of hospitals or doctors turning them over to police.”

Opposition to Abortion restrictions

Advocacy groups and pro-choice officials have already vowed to fight restrictions.                                                                                                   

Rep. Chris England (D- Tuscaloosa) is chair of the Alabama Democrats.

“Yet again, Republican legislators and appointed judges think they should be sitting between you and your doctor while making medical decisions,” England said in a statement.

Opponents have also expressed concern about abortion restrictions having a more significant impact on women without the resources to travel out of state.

“The reality for us is that most of the patients we see find it difficult enough to get an abortion in the state - and many are coming from out of state, too, even as far as Texas,” said Marty. “Getting to DC, North Carolina or Illinois is a privilege very few will be able to have.”

Out-of-state abortions

While the ADPH reports 5,713 abortions performed in Alabama in 2020, data shows 7,466 Alabama residents received abortions that same year. The higher number includes Alabama residents who had abortions in other states, which was reported back to the Center of Health Statistics.

Of the 7,466 total abortions, 29% of those women identified as White, 67% were Black, 4% either identified as other or did not state a race.

Of those who had abortions, 188 were under 18 years old. It’s unclear how many of those minors had their abortions performed in Alabama.

Of the 7,466 women, 88% were reported as unmarried.

What’s next?

Alabama’s leaders are waiting for an official decision from SCOTUS.

“My prayer is that Roe v. Wade is overturned, and that life prevails,” Ivey said in a statement.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, no changes would be automatic. If Alabama wants to enforce the Human Life Protection Act, the Attorney General’s office would need to file a motion in federal court to remove or dissolve the preliminary injunction on the law based on new evidence in the case. 

1819 News asked if Gov. Ivey would like to see the Human Life Protection Act enforced or if she is considering calling a special session for lawmakers to craft a new bill.

Ivey’s Communications Director, Gina Maiola, indicated the need to wait to find out.

“First things first, and that is that Gov. Ivey wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned and the issue of abortion returned to the states, where it belongs,” Maiola said. “Gov. Ivey believes firmly in the sanctity of life and remains committed to fighting for the unborn here in Alabama.”

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