- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill Wednesday that would ban abortion clinics within 2,000 feet of public schools, legislation that could force at least one clinic to close or move if it becomes law.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-1 in favor of the bill after a public hearing.

The bill, which would affect at least one of the state’s five abortion clinics, would prohibit the Alabama Department of Public Health from giving new or renewed licenses to abortion clinics located within 2,000 feet of K-12 schools.

Proponents said having a clinic within sight of a school exposes children to adult matters and sometimes angry protests at a young age. Opponents threatened litigation, saying the bill could force at least one abortion clinic in Huntsville to close or move.

The legislation comes as activists across the U.S. push for bills that would further curtail access to abortions, driven in part by conservative gains in November elections.

“It’s not intended to close down facilities,” said state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville. “It’s intended to kind of insulate impressionable young children from what isn’t an always love situation outside of a clinic with protesters for and against the issue.”

Sanford, who carried the bill in the committee, said he doesn’t think it’s an “unreasonable restriction” to place distance between an abortion clinic and a school.

Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said during the public hearing that abortion is a constitutionally protected right.

“It’s not right to pass legislation to close an existing business just because you don’t like it,” she said.

Watson said the ACLU would sue the state if the bill becomes law.

Sanford said threats of litigation are unfounded and that he wouldn’t sponsor an unconstitutional bill.

Much of the debate has centered on an abortion clinic in Huntsville already in operation and a nearby school that is scheduled to be built this fall. The Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives, which moved to a new location in 2013, is located across the street from the future Academy of Academics and Arts.

In an interview after the vote, Alabama Women’s Center owner Dalton Johnson said the legislation is “ridiculous.”

“There’s a school, day care, church, library, pretty much on every corner of America,” Johnson said. “So that’s what they’ll be doing, just upping and saying next will be you can’t be within 2,000 feet of a library. You can’t be 2,000 feet of a church. It’s going to be a never-ending thing.”

Johnson, who said his facility performs around 200 abortion procedures each month, said he’s seen an influx as other clinics around the state face stricter standards.

The legislation still faces tough odds during the final days of the 2015 legislative session, with only two days left to receive a full vote by the Senate. If the Senate makes any revisions, it would then need to return to the House for approval.

James Henderson, a Huntsville pastor who drafted the bill sponsored by state Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, said he’s optimistic even if the bill doesn’t pass this session because anti-abortion advocates are more mobilized than ever.

“There was a time where we only had eight dedicated people on the sidewalk,” he said. “Now we can raise as many as 200.

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