State Sen. Harri Anne Smith, I-Slocomb, said she voted against a bill that places stricter regulations on abortion clinics and doctors because the bill may not be Constitutional.
“I am pro-life and always have been. You have to be real here,” Smith told the Dothan Eagle Monday.
“This had nothing to do with ‘Oh, Harri Anne has turned pro-choice.’ I was just trying to make an informed decision about a bill that has some possible Constitutional issues that could cost the state money and could be overturned.”
The bill, HB57, has passed both the House and the Senate and awaits the signature of Gov. Robert Bentley.
Voting for the bill were Reps. Paul Lee, R-Dothan; Barry Moore, R-Enterprise; Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva and Steve Clouse, R-Ozark. Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Newville voted against the bill. Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, voted for the bill and Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, voted against it.
The bill has several provisions. One provision requires clinics where abortions are performed to meet the same safety standards as ambulatory surgical centers, which require doorways and hallways wide enough to support patients on gurneys.
The bill also requires clinics to ask any girl under age 16 the name and age of the person who got her pregnant. She doesn’t have to answer. If she does answer and the father is more than two years older, the clinic must report that to police for investigation of a possible sex crime. If the girl is younger than 14, the clinic must report her name to the state Department of Human Resources for review.
Smith said she had issues with two other provisions. One requires abortion clinics to use doctors who have approval to admit patients to hospitals in the same city. Smith said the same provision faces a legal challenge in Mississippi.
“Why not wait and see what happens with this provision in Mississippi?” Smith said. “Certainly this will be challenged legally in Alabama as well , and if this provision doesn’t hold up Constitutionally, it could end up being costly for us.”
Smith said that since many hospitals are affiliated with either religious groups or local governments, it would be difficult or impossible for abortion doctors to gain admitting privileges. She said that while the bill has been touted as a woman’s safety bill, the real intent is the shutdown of abortion clinics in Alabama.
“Why put this clause in there when you have an ongoing lawsuit in Mississippi unless there is another motive?” Smith said.
Smith said the shutdown of clinics in Alabama would lead to another Constitutional challenge.
“I think anyone could look at the way things are now and ask ‘Is there currently a Constitutional right to abortion?’ And I think they would say that, right now, there is. And the way that the federal law is written, it is unlawful to place an undue burden on a woman’s access,” Smith said.
“Would I like to not see abortion clinics in this state as a pro-life person? Absolutely. But if this clause violates the Constitution and it is going to be overturned, why are we doing it? And, if this leads to the shutdown of clinics in Alabama, what are women going to do that have been raped? Commit suicide? Hurt themselves trying to do this on their own?”
Moore, however, said it is not unreasonable to hold abortion doctors and clinics to high standards.
“It’s funny how with some issues, regulations and the law really keep a pretty close thumb on people providing medical procedures whatever they may be — and maybe they should — but in this area, they were pretty lax.”
Moore said a legal challenge to the bill would not be a surprise.
“It is not uncommon for us to be threatened with lawsuits and drug into court.” Moore said “At the end of the day, we still have to pass laws and hope judges don’t legislate from the bench.”
Lee said he did not consider the bill controversial.
“This was a non-controversial bill to me ,” Lee said. “ I am 100 percent against abortion. I am not ashamed to say if I can put an abortion clinic out of business, I will do it, especially those that do not meet standards. There are some things that are worth challenging in court . ”
Clouse said legal challenges to some bills come with the territory.
“We have that (lawsuit) threat with any of the legislation we pass ,” Clouse said. “ That is why we have three different branches of government . ”
Smith said she also has problems with a provision that allows women to sue abortion clinics and facility administrators for emotional distress and mental anguish among other things. Smith said that provision may also be unconstitutional.
Smith said most of the reaction from her constituents has been critical of her vote.
“I believe there are people who, because this is a very emotional issue, believe we should just go to the mat at all costs,” Smith said.
Smith also said she could support the bill if the admitting privileges provision being challenged in Mississippi is ultimately upheld in court.
“But we just don’t know. Why not wait?” Smith said.