(AL.com) The Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation that would keep abortion clinics from operating within 2,000 feet of a public school.
Rep. Ed Henry’s bill was drafted by an anti-abortion group with the intent to shut down the Huntsville abortion clinic, which is located across the street from a middle school. The legislation applies the same restrictions to abortion providers that are placed on convicted sex offenders.
Neither fact was brought up during the two-hour debate on the House floor Tuesday afternoon.
Henry, R-Hartselle, said his bill is about keeping school children away from the protests on both sides of the issue that display graphic signs and take photos outside the clinics.
“It is a volatile atmosphere that our children shouldn’t be exposed to,” he said.
The legislation would allow the Alabama Department of Public Health to not issue or refuse to renew a health center license to an abortion clinic located within 2,000 feet of the property or campus of a public school.
In a previous interview with AL.com, James Henderson, the former leader of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, said his anti-abortion group drafted the legislation with the purpose of shutting down the Huntsville clinic.
Anti-abortion activists in Huntsville filed an unsuccessful lawsuit last year in an attempt to shut down Alabama Women’s Center at 4831 Sparkman Drive in Huntsville – North Alabama’s only abortion clinic — which is located almost directly across from the former Ed White Middle School. The building is being renovated to house the magnet school Academy for Academics and Arts
Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates released a statement against the passage of the bill.
“Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates stands firmly against HB 527 and the targeted attack on women’s healthcare in Alabama,” the group released. “This bill was brought about out of the frustrations of the anti-abortion protesters in North Alabama who have been attempting to block access by manipulating existing laws unsuccessfully. These protesters are now seeking to use the Alabama State Legislature as a pawn at the expense of the taxpayers to carry out a personal vendetta.
“By likening a health care facility to a sex offender in the wording of the bill it is clear that the intent is not to make women safer, but to deny access in Huntsville,” the statement continues.
The House accepted an amendment from Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, that took out language that would have had the 2,000-foot rule apply to any reproductive health clinic over concerns the bill would apply to any obstetrician/gynecologist office or fertility clinics.
Another amendment from Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, defining a public school as a city or county school that is currently operating and not an abandoned building was also accepted.
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, was the first lawmaker to take the podium to speak out against the bill. She criticized Republicans for not doing more to prevent women from getting pregnant and to the adoption process easier.
“Your whole focus is this nine-month period, and then boom, you don’t care,” she said.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, and Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, both spoke against the bill expressing concerns that with the large number of schools in their jurisdictions the new restrictions could cause abortion clinics to close.
England asked Henry if the 2,000 feet restriction was an arbitrary figure, or if it was based on a study or used in another state.
Henry said he didn’t know where the distance came from. He said 2,000 feet is a couple of city blocks, and within 2,000 feet from a school you would have a higher concentration of school children.
The legislation can now be considered by the Senate.
By: Erin Edgemon
Image by: Eric Schultz – firstname.lastname@example.org