House Health Committee advances bills restricting abortions

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The House Health Committee on Wednesday advanced a series of restrictions that opponents say would ban most abortions in the state.

The committee passed three separate pieces of legislation, including one that would prohibit providers from performing an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected.

A federal judge last year ruled a similar North Dakota law unconstitutional, but the Alabama bill's sponsor, Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said a federal court in Alabama might rule differently.

"It's just such a common-sense bill, in my opinion, if we determine someone is no longer alive if we can't find the heartbeat," Collins said after the committee vote. "What a great determinant for when life starts, because you don't get into the weeds of contraception or the terminology of personhood."

The Alabama House of Representatives approved similar legislation last year, but the bill did not get a vote in the state Senate. Prospects for passage this year are uncertain.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama opposes the legislation. Susan Watson, the organization's executive director, said backers of bills restricting abortions "write them broadly and talk about them narrowly."

"I think they all put stumbling blocks in front of women to prevent her from obtaining a constitutionally protected procedure," she said.

Another bill would allow health care providers to decline to participate in any procedure that violates their conscience.

Cheryl Ciamarra, legislative director for Alabama Citizens for Life, an organization that supports the legislation, said the bill allowing health care workers to decline to participate is more of a religious freedom bill than it is an anti-abortion bill.

"I think it's an important principle that the government cannot make you go against your conscience for fear of losing your job when it comes to life-terminating procedures," she said.

A third bill would ban abortion clinics or reproductive health centers within 2,000 feet of a public school.

All three bills move to the full House next.

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