by Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, the Women’s Health and Safety Act. HB57, was open to a public hearing in the Senate Health Committee. The room was overflowing with both proponent and opponents of the bill.
Sponsored by Representative Mary Sue McClurkin (R-Indian Springs) presented her bill to the committee and a public hearing immediately followed. At the end of the meeting, Chairman Greg Reed (R-Jasper) announce that he had initially intended to take a vote on the bill during the meeting but that since there had been so many question from committee members he changed his mind and carried the bill over to the next meeting for vote.
According to the sponsor, the bill is designed to raise the standards of “abortion or reproductive health centers.” She said, “These standards of care I think are very important for women’s health and safety.”
The bill states its purpose as “because abortion or reproductive health centers have often failed to meet acceptable standards of medical care, it is necessary for Legislature to enact reasonable and medically appropriate health and safety standards…”
HB57 not only imposes new regulations but also folds in a bill from last session regarding the monitoring and dispensing of “abortion pills.” That bill, authored by Eric Johnston who also authored this bill, was designed to stop women from purchasing these pills online and taking them at home without being monitored by a physician.
The bill reads, “Only a physician may give, sell, dispense, administer, or otherwise prescribe an abortion-inducing drug.” Failure of the physician to personally dispense these drugs constitutes a class C felony.
An incident at a Birmingham clinic in January 2012 had influence over many of the proposed regulations contained in the bill. The incident involved two women who were given too much of a sedation drug resulting in a 911 call and transport to the hospital. Since the halls were not wide enough for a gurney, one woman was transported to the ambulance in the arms of the paramedics, the other in a wheel chair.
As a result, the bill includes the language requiring them to meet ambulatory health care requirements: “An abortion or reproductive health center shall be classified as ambulatory health care occupancy and shall meet all standards in the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code 2000 edition.”
Another point of contention from Senator Linda Coleman (D-Birmingham) was the bill’s requirement that any girl under the age of 16 be required to name the potential father,
It says, “…any child under the age of 16 seeking an abortion…shall be asked by the physician performing the abortion or his or her agent to state the name and age of the individual who is believed to be the father…if age of father is two or more years greater…report pregnant minor child and the father to both local law enforcement and the county department of human resources…”
McClurkin said that she sponsored the bill because of the “citations by department of public health from the last couple of years.” After McClurkin presented the bill a public hearing followed.
“All we are saying is meet the regular and safety fire codes that allow people to be safe in buildings. Connie just testified that there was a problem last year getting people out of a building. This bill is not about stopping abortion, it is about making abortion more safe,” said Eric Johnston.
Cheryl Ciamarra, Citizens for Life, said, “It will not stop any woman from getting an abortion, it will require the standards of care.” She continued by saying that it will only shut down clinics that refuse to comply. She said that Alabama averages 10,000 abortions per year and at an average cost of $500 it creates gross revenues in excess of $5 million. She said, “They can afford to comply.”
June Ayers, Director of Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery presented the current regulations that are required for clinics. Regarding the portion of the bill requiring all physicians at a given clinic to have hospital admitting privileges at a local hospital. She responded, “We have a contract with a physician here in Montgomery with admitting privileges here.” She said that not all physicians who work at her facility were able to obtain local admitting privileges because they live out of the area.”
Rev. Fred Hammond, Minister of Unitarian Congregationalist, Tuscaloosa accused the bill of attempting to close abortion clinics since they would be cost prohibitive. He said, “Women will seek abortions whether in this state or not, whether in a medical clinic or an alley as they did 40 years ago.”
Lori Gray, West Alabama Women’s Center, told the committee, “All women who are in recovery are ambulatory. Unless handicapped they are able to walk from recovery and are capable of being escorted outside. There is no need halls wide enough for gurneys to begin with. The patient is not placed on a gurney in the first place.”
The committee will decide the fate of this bill over the next week. The results will be worked out in the next Senate Health Committee. If it passes this committee it will go to the Senate Floor for debate.