Bentley signs two abortion bills into law

Published 9:34 pm Thursday, May 12, 2016

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on Thursday signed legislation into law that could shutter the state’s two largest abortion providers.

Bentley’s office confirmed the governor approved a bill to deny licenses or license renewals to clinics within 2,000 feet of public elementary and middle schools. He also approved a ban of a second trimester abortion procedure known as dilation & evacuation, or D&E.

“I am a strong pro-life individual,” said Bentley on Wednesday when asked about the legislation. “I am for life, and always will be.”

Proponents of the clinic proximity bill have said the legislation isn’t about abortion itself, but safeguards are needed to protect children from seeing anti-abortion protests.

“I don’t feel like these types of facilities need to be anywhere near our children,” said Republican Rep. Ed Henry, who sponsored the legislation.

The bill targeted a Huntsville clinic, which was forced to close and move to its current location in 2013 to comply with new facility restrictions on abortion providers.

The new law could also affect a Tuscaloosa women’s clinic, which performs the majority of Alabama’s abortion services. Though the clinic is over a mile away from the nearest school by road way, its property and the school’s campus back up to the same wooded area.

American Civil Liberties Union has vowed to fight both laws in court.

Andrew Beck, an ACLU lawyer, called it the “height of hypocrisy” that anti-abortion activists who pushed the proximity bill are among the very protesters that the legislation is supposed to prevent children from seeing.

Dalton Johnson, the administrator of the Alabama Woman’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville, said it was “shameful” legislators said the law was about protecting children from anti-abortion protesters.

“This goes down to access,” Johnson said. “What it means is that more of the taxpayers’ money is going to be spent on challenging crazy laws like this.”

Johnson referred to a battle between Alabama and Planned Parenthood Southeast last year after Bentley attempted to pull the organization’s Medicaid contract. The state had funded about $5,000 to Planned Parenthood in 2013 and 2014 for health screenings and contraceptives.

After Alabama lost an initial round in federal court, the state agreed to pay Planned Parenthood $51,000 in legal fees.

It will be business as usual at the clinic until at least December, Johnson said, when their current license expires.

House Democrats vehemently protested both abortion-related bills in the final hours of session last week.

Democratic Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, said she was “disturbed” that the Huntsville clinic moved in compliance with existing law and now faces closure again.

“It is unfair for an individual to meet the demands of a law that we passed and when they moved, we create another law to put them basically out of business,” Hall said.

According to Alabama Department of Public Health data, the Huntsville and Tuscaloosa clinics performed 5,833 procedures in 2014, 72 percent of all abortions in the state.

Opponents of the law say the remaining three clinics — located in Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile — lack the capacity to handle the state’s patient load if the Huntsville and Tuscaloosa clinics close.