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Abortion ban may not be final law

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Rep. Terri Collins, the Alabama lawmaker who sponsored the near-total ban on abortions that is now state law, said recently that it’s not her preferred pro-life law.

“I still like the heartbeat bill,” Collins told Alabama Daily News about the fetal heartbeat bills passed by other states that ban many abortions after a fetus’ heartbeat is detected. Collins carried similar bills in Alabama during multiple sessions and, unlike the state’s new law, it had exceptions for cases of rape and incest.

“I think most of the Legislature would prefer to see a heartbeat bill,” Collins said.

But the stated goal of Alabama’s new law is to force a legal fight before the U.S. Supreme Court and argue that fetuses have personhood rights.

“Until Roe v. Wade is addressed, we can’t have a heartbeat bill,” Collins said.

Pro-choice groups have vowed to challenge Alabama’s law, which doesn’t go into effect for six months, and a legal fights could take years. There’s no guarantee that the Supreme Court would choose to hear a challenge to Alabama’s law, or any other state’s abortion law.

But Collins said if her law were upheld, and she were still a lawmaker, she’d definitely carry a bill to allow for rape and incest exemptions in an Alabama abortion ban.

“Would I carry that heartbeat bill, yes,” she said.

Similarly, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, recently said that even if this law is upheld, it’s “not necessarily” the final law in Alabama.

“What if we took that law and came back to Alabama and amended it and put in it stipulations for rape and incest, which is very possible,” McCutcheon said.

Groups that supported Alabama’s new law like it as it is.

“When it is all said and done, (the Alabama Policy Institute) believes that life begins at conception,” executive director Phil Williams said.

“We also fully acknowledge that the exceptions question is the most difficult portion of the debate. We get it, we are not callous or indifferent to the issues.”

But life is life, he said, and every life is due protections.

Last year, Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment that says it’s the policy of Alabama “to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life …”

A legal loophole?

Alabama’s new abortion law allows exceptions for the deadly health of the mother and “fatal anomalies” in the fetus. Collins said drafters of the state’s new near total ban on abortions went back and forth over another exemption in the law that allows for abortion if the woman might harm herself or the fetus.

House Bill 314 allows for medically necessary abortions if the woman has a condition that “necessitates the termination of her pregnancy to avert her death or to avert serious risk of substantial physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

That doesn’t apply “to a  condition based on a claim that the woman is suffering from an emotional condition or a mental illness which will cause her to engage in conduct that intends to result in her death or the death of her unborn child.”

However, if a second doctor, an Alabama-licensed psychiatrist with at least three year’s of experience, determines she has a serious mental illness that could cause her to kill herself or the unborn child, an abortion is allowed.

The full statute provision reads:

However, the condition may exist if a second physician who is licensed in Alabama as a psychiatrist, with a minimum of three years of clinical experience, examines the woman and documents that the woman has a diagnosed serious mental illness and because of it, there is reasonable medical judgment that she will engage in conduct that could result in her death or the death of her unborn child. If the mental health diagnosis and likelihood of conduct is confirmed as provided in this act, and it is determined that a termination of her pregnancy is medically necessary to avoid the conduct, the termination may be performed and shall be only performed by a physician licensed in Alabama in a hospital as defined in the Alabama Administrative Code and to which he or she has admitting privileges.

The two-step self harm loophole could also further exacerbate what bill critics have warned all along: that those with greater means will still elect to have abortions, while poor women won’t have those options.

Collins said the possibility that the exemption could be used as a loophole for women seeking abortions was raised during bill deliberations.

“But taking care of that mother was critical and I’m glad it is in the bill,” she said.

Alabama Daily News’ Todd Stacy contributed to this report. 

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