A Pro-Life Bill in Alabama Would Ban All Abortions Except for 'Serious Health Risk'

Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham said the legislation reflects “the strong commitment that the people of Alabama have to life.”

The statehouse of Alabama in Montgomery.
The statehouse of Alabama in Montgomery. (photo: Daderot [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - New legislation in Alabama would ban all abortions in the state, except in cases where the mother faces a “serious health risk.”

The bill, introduced in both the Alabama House and Senate April 2, would make it a felony for doctors to perform or attempt an abortion. Women would not be criminally culpable or civilly liable for receiving abortions.

The bill would include an exemption “in cases where abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child's mother.”

It defines a serious health risk as a condition requiring an abortion “to avert [the mother’s] death or to avert serious risk of substantial physical impairment of a major bodily function.” It only includes emotional and mental illnesses if they have been diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist and “there is reasonable medical judgment that she will engage in conduct that could result in her death or the death of her unborn child.”

Opponents have already pledged to challenge the legislation in court if it is enacted. However, its supporters say it could be the key to a reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which found a right to abortion nationwide.

Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham said the legislation reflects “the strong commitment that the people of Alabama have to life.”

In an April 3 statement, the bishop praised the lawmakers’ efforts.

“I strongly support these bills and stand behind the efforts of these legislators to promote life and to, hopefully in the near future, eliminate this evil we know as abortion from within the boundaries of the State of Alabama; and, eventually, to make the killing of unborn children in our country something that is no longer viewed as anything but the horrendous and inhumane killing of the most innocent among us that it is,” he said.

Representative Terri Collins (R-Decatur), sponsor of the House bill, said the legislation is a follow-up to 60 percent of Alabama voters approving Amendment 2 last November. That amendment changed Alabama’s constitution so that it explicitly “recognizes and supports the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, most importantly the right to life in all manners and measures appropriate and lawful; and provides that the constitution of this state does not protect the right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

Although the amendment had no immediate effect due to the national applicability of Roe v. Wade, it would be significant if Roe were to be overturned, preventing a state-level legal ruling from finding a similar “right to abortion” in the Alabama constitution.

“With liberal states like New York rushing to approve radical late-term and post-birth abortions, passage of this bill will reflect the conservative beliefs, principles, and desires of the citizens of Alabama while, at the same time, providing a vehicle to revisit the constitutionally-flawed Roe v. Wade decision,” Collins said, according to AL.com.

“It is meant to actually use some of the same language that is addressed in Roe vs. Wade. So, hopefully it just completely takes it all the way to the Supreme Court eventually to overturn.”

Collin’s bill has the support of 65 co-sponsors, out of 104 lawmakers. The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton, (R-Range), has 11 co-sponsors, of 35 senators, AL.com reported.

The Alabama legislation is among dozens of bills seeking to either expand or restrict legal abortion in states across the country, as changes on the Supreme Court have led to speculation that Roe v. Wade may be overturned.

In January, New York passed an expansive law declaring abortion to be a “fundamental human right,” broadening the legality of late-term abortions, and allowing non-physicians to perform abortions, as well as removing protections for babies born alive after a botched abortion.

A similar bill in Virginia failed in February after video circulated online of the bill’s proponents suggesting that it would allow abortion even during labor and that babies who survived an abortion attempt could be left to die of exposure.

Other states, including Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia, have passed or are considering bills that would ban abortion once the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy.

Several states have also passed “trigger bills” that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned by the Supreme Court, placing the question of legal abortion back with the states.

Randall Marshall, executive director of Alabama’s American Civil Liberties Union, told WHNT 19 that the new bill would not hold up in court and would cost taxpayers a significant amount of money in legal fees.

Collins responded to this criticism by saying, “We think this is the bill that could overturn, what I consider to be a bad law, then it’s well worth spending the money.”

In addition to Amendment 2 last fall, Alabama has made several attempts to pass pro-life legislation in recent years.

Last August, a federal appeals court ruled against a state law that would have banned a second-trimester abortion procedure, known as “dialation and evacuation.”

The previous year, a federal judge struck down an Alabama law requiring more scrutiny for minors who seek an abortion without parental consent.

The state is still considered to be one of the most restrictive in terms of abortion law. Alabama requires that women be given counseling and an ultrasound prior to having an abortion, though it is optional for the woman to view the ultrasound image. It also has restrictions on the health insurance coverage of elective abortions that are not performed for reasons of life endangerment, rape or incest.