- Associated Press - Monday, June 30, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama will have half the abortion clinics it did two years ago, with three still planning to operate when a new law state kicks in Tuesday that sets stricter building standards for clinics.

In 2012, Alabama had six clinics licensed by the state Department of Public Health. The three remaining are in Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Mobile, health department attorney Brian Hale said Monday.

The number started dwindling when New Woman All Women Health Care in Birmingham surrendered its license to the health department in May 2012 after two patients had to be rushed to a hospital by ambulance. A doctor started performing abortions again at the facility without a state license, but the health department got a court order closing it in August 2013.

Huntsville’s one abortion clinic closed Friday because it is going to have to move to a new location to meet the new building requirements, which include wider halls and doorways to accommodate gurneys and improved fire safety measures. Hale said that will require the clinic to get a new state license, and there is no timetable of how long that will take. He said the operator has submitted building plans for the new facility, but its architect has not yet responded to questions the health department had about the plans.

Birmingham’s clinic, operated by Planned Parenthood Southeast, closed in January after firing two staff members for selling an abortion medication to a person in the clinic’s parking lot. Nikema Williams, vice president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the clinic has kept its state license while closed, and it has met all the new building requirements. She said the clinic has hired new staff and is training them in anticipation of getting approval from the health department to resume services within a few weeks.

The building requirements are part of a law the Legislature passed in 2013. The law also requires doctors at abortion clinics to have approval to admit patients to nearby hospitals. That part of the law is on hold while the America Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and others challenge it in court.

Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said the restrictions and other abortion-related laws passed by the Legislature are designed to limit access to safe abortions.

“Alabama’s Legislature, like many states in the South, believes that it must be involved in a woman’s most personal health choice decisions and has its sights set on chipping away at her rights to make her own choices,” Watson said.

The Rev. James Henderson, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, said Huntsville had three clinics 20 years ago when he and others started organizing sidewalk protests, and now there are none. He attributed it to prayer and by exposing conditions in the clinics.

“We don’t fee jubilation. We feel sadness for the 30,000 lives lost here in Huntsville,” he said. Henderson and others are planning a memorial service Tuesday outside the closed clinic. They are also trying to keep the new location from opening because of its closeness to a middle school.

In 2012 when Alabama had six clinics, the health department reported there were 9,076 abortions performed in Alabama. The six clinics accounted for 9,009 and hospitals did the rest. West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa was the largest clinic, performing 3,503 abortions. The now-closed Huntsville clinic, All Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives, was second with 1,451. The closed Planned Parenthood clinic in Birmingham was third with 1,342. Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Mobile was just behind at 1,275. Montgomery’s Reproductive Health Services had 968 and the now-closed New Woman All Women Health Care in Birmingham had 470 in a partial year of operation.

Clinic numbers are not yet available for 2013, but the total number of abortions recorded by the health department declined in 2013 to at 8,485.