- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A bill banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected could pass before the Alabama Legislature wraps up its session, along with three other bills regulating abortions.

The Senate Health Committee approved three abortion-related bills Tuesday, including the fetal heartbeat bill. One bill would set stricter standards for girls under 18 getting abortions. Another would require women seeking an abortion because of lethal fetal anomalies to be advised of the availability of perinatal hospice services.

The three bills passed the House earlier and now go to the Senate for a vote with only two more meeting days left in the 2014 session.

The committee earlier approved a House-passed bill that would extend the waiting period for abortions from 24 hours to 48 hours after a woman receives information from an abortion clinic about adoption and the risks of an abortion. That bill is already pending in the Senate.

The fetal heartbeat bill by Republican Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin of Indian Springs would require a doctor to check for a fetal heartbeat and would ban an abortion if one is detected. That can occur at six or seven weeks into a pregnancy. The bill contains an exemption to save the life of the mother but not an exemption for rape or incest.

“A heartbeat in an indication of life,” McClurkin told the committee.

Tea Sefer, state organizing associate with the National Abortion Federation, said the bill would ban most abortions in Alabama. She said a similar law enacted in North Dakota last year has been put on hold by a federal judge.

Eric Johnston, an attorney and executive director of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, said the bill could be an opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to take another look at abortion.

Heinz Dueffer, director of emergency medical services at Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster, said the bill intrudes into medical care, with doctors at risk of committing felonies. He recounted terminating a seven-week-old pregnancy after the woman came into the emergency room with bleeding. He said that reduced the threat of further bleeding, infection and infertility.

“I don’t want to be a criminal,” he said.

The bill provides a sentence of one to 10 years in prison for doctors who violate the heartbeat requirement.

The Senate Health Committee approved all three bills 7-1, with support coming entirely from Republicans and opposition coming from the lone Democrat attending the meeting, Sen. Linda Coleman of Birmingham.

The Legislature last year enacted a law requiring abortion clinic doctors to have approval to admit patients to local hospitals. Three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics are challenging the law in court. They say it would force them to close because they use traveling doctors. Proponents, including the governor, say abortion clinic doctors should be available to treat complications. A federal judge has placed the law on hold pending a trial.

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