By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
HUNTSVILLE – According to its director, the only health care facility in northern Alabama that offers abortion services, will surrender its license next Monday.
Director Dalton Johnson has said that new structural requirements for facilities set out in the Women’s Health and Safety Act, a pro-life bill signed into law by Governor Bentley in April, will prevent the clinic from renewing its license.
The facility, Alabama’s Women Center in Huntsville, is also an OB/GYN primary care clinic, but does not meet building standards for an ambulatory center – standards typically set for hospitals – that are provided for in the new law.
“Women are losing their primary healthcare for OB/GYN care in this whole process just because we offer abortion services,” said a member of Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, a nonprofit associated with the clinic.
Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, which had been one of the only groups whose facility was not affected by an earlier pro-life law, said they are determined to find a new facility from which they can provide reproductive health services.
“We’re very confident that we’re going to find another location to open that will be compliant with the laws in Alabama,” an ARRA associate said.
In fact, ARRA has submitted plans for approval of a new facility to the Alabama Department of Public Health, which has said that the blueprints had passed through an initial review with only some suggestion to the architect.
For now, though, Women’s Health Center in Huntsville will close its doors.
Of the five facilities in Alabama which perform abortions, the Huntsville clinic had the second most number of procedures in 2012, with about 1,400.
Earlier passed restrictions on abortion facilities in Alabama, particularly provisions which require facilities to acquire admitting privileges to local hospitals, did not affect the Huntsville clinic, or the larger clinic in Tuscaloosa, which performed about 3,500 abortions in 2012. Those restrictions, though, threaten to close the doors of the other three clinics in Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile permanently. Those facilities, two of which are Planned Parenthood clinics, have challenged the law in court, and are currently awaiting a decision on its constitutionality by US District Court Judge Myron Thompson.
If the Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile clinics fail to win in court, or on appeal, and Huntsville’s ARRA clinic does not find a new location, those in the State seeking abortion services would face a significant burden.
Even with just the imminent closure of Alabama Women’s Center, the lack of such facilities is apparent. “Once this clinic closes, there will be no place between Tuscaloosa and Nashville to come for a procedure,” an ARRA member said.