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Ala. gov. signs two antiabortion-rights bills; ACLU of Alabama pledges legal challenge

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) on Thursday signed into law two antiabortion-rights bills, Reuters reports (Stein, Reuters, 5/12).

Abortion ban

One of the new laws (SB 363) bans a medically proven method of abortion. The law, proposed by state Sen. Phil Williams (R), includes limited exceptions in instances of a "serious health risk" to the woman. The exception does not apply to mental health concerns. Under the law, physicians who provide the banned method of abortion care can be penalized.

Alabama is among several states that have introduced such a ban. Courts have blocked similar measures in Kansas and Oklahoma. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, the bans are unconstitutional because they impede private medical decisions.

TRAP law

The second law (SB 205) signed Thursday prohibits the location and licensure of abortion clinics within 2,000 feet of certain public schools.

The law bans abortion clinics "within 2,000 feet of a K-8 public school." The law's language does not specify whether the ban would apply exclusively to schools serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade or if it would apply to all elementary and middle schools regardless of the exact grade levels they serve.

The law will force the only abortion clinic in north Alabama to close. Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Alternatives is the sole clinic located in Huntsville, Alabama, and one of five clinics in the state. In 2014, Alabama Women's Center moved to its current location in response to a law imposing new building standard requirements on abortion care facilities (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/5).

ACLU vows legal challenge

According to Reuters, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama has pledged to file a legal challenge against both of the new laws (Reuters, 5/12). Susan Watson, executive director of ACLU of Alabama, said, "It's really a shame the legislators keep passing these bills over and over and over and over again when it's going to cost the taxpayers so much money" (Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser, 5/12).

In addition to closing the Alabama Women's Center, Watson said the law restricting the location of abortion clinics could close another clinic in Tuscaloosa. If the clinics close, women in the state would only be able to access abortion care at three remaining clinics, and some state residents likely would have to travel to Tennessee to access abortion care. "It would really reduce the access in the northern part of Alabama," she said.

According to ACLU, the two clinics targeted by the clinic location law are the only two facilities in the state that provide the now-banned method of abortion care (Reuters, 5/12).

Separately, Dalton Johnson, owner of the Alabama Women's Center, said the clinic location law is "targeted directly at access to reproductive choices and a woman's right to choose."

Johnson also dismissed claims that the law is aimed at protecting children from antiabortion-rights protests outside of abortion clinics (Montgomery Advertiser, 5/12). Opponents of the law have noted that clinics should not be penalized for antiabortion-rights protesters' actions (Women’s Health Policy Report, 5/5). Johnson stated, "It's like starting a fire and then claiming the insurance money" (Montgomery Advertiser, 5/12).