Remember how anti-abortion protesters sued Massachusetts all the way to the Supreme Court over a ‘buffer zone’ the state put between them and the clinics where they protest? Well, forget everything that forced-birth activists ever said about free speech and the Constitution, because in Alabama those same hypocrites are about to put a ‘buffer zone’ around schools in order to shut down an abortion clinic.
HB527, which deliberately equates abortion services with sex offenders, is expected to pass in the last hours of the state’s legislative session, or even a special session, after being approved by the Senate Health Committee this morning. (Video of the hearing is below.)
The brainchild of James Henderson, former head of the Alabama Christian Coalition, HB527 is specifically aimed at shutting down a clinic in Huntsville which has defied his efforts to shut its doors. The legislation, which he crafted himself and introduced through powerful friends, would prevent the state licensing agency from renewing the license of any abortion facility operating within 2,000 feet of a school.
It is the latest example of forced-birth activists focusing on the erection of administrative challenges to abortion providers. Mirroring right wing complaints about ‘big government,’ so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation against Abortion Provider) laws create burdensome and unnecessary mandates, such as requiring physicians to have privileges at hospitals, wider halls and doorways, etc., which force clinics to either make expensive repairs, move, or shut down.
The Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives (AWCRA) gives Henderson a special case of heartburn because the new location was chosen to comply with Alabama’s most recent TRAP law. It also has an attached parking lot — a provision which stops Henderson and his gang of creepy hobbyists from getting in the faces of women to ‘counsel’ them before they enter the facility.
However, because the building is located down the street from a school that is due to reopen this Fall, Henderson saw an opportunity to cast aside every free speech argument that forced-birth activists have ever made for themselves and instead hype the stigma that people like himself have built up around the procedures they demonize.
During a recent House Health Committee hearing where HB527 moved forward, Henderson’s supporters threatened to disrupt the school as much as possible unless their demands were met, and their entire argument in support of the rule was that their own activities should never be seen by children — which is interesting, since the school lacks windows, while they trot out kids all the time to participate in their sidewalk protests.
Henderson normally succeeds in pressing one item of forced-birth legislation through the Montgomery sausage-factory every year. Should HB527 become law, it will trigger an immediate lawsuit — one that the state of Alabama absolutely will lose, and at taxpayer expense — not that our ultra-conservative legislators give a damn. During today’s hearing, their utter disrespect was palpable to everyone in the room. As one attendee wrote on Facebook,
These were people who felt a STRONG moral duty to stand up against an injustice. Some had come hundreds of miles to be heard. Their eloquent remarks were made to an audience of 3-4 people who did nothing to hide their lack of interest in their constituents points of view. They laughed, shared private jokes and drifted in and out of the room while the citizens were speaking. The secretary of the committee even took a phone call WHILE ONE OF OUR SPEAKERS WAS ADDRESSING THE COMMITTEE. Not only did she take the call, she was talking loudly as she chatted with her phone buddy. The committee chair had to tell her to stop.
By the time five citizens had spoken (all in opposition to the bill and ZERO in support), there were 4 committee members seated at the table. As the chair called for a vote, another member walked in just long enough to have his voice heard in the form of a yea vote, even though he hadn’t listened to a single word from members of the public.
BU will continue to cover this story as it develops. You can watch the video of today’s hearing below:
ADDING: Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, the Underground Railroad for reproductive freedom in Alabama, has issued a statement:
Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates (ARRA) is deeply disappointed in our state legislature, which continues to target women’s health care in Alabama. Today’s Senate Health and Human Services Committee members’ behavior on HB 527 — a committee that started a meeting with only three members of 11 present — highlights the ways that legislators disrespect the citizens of Alabama who spoke against this bill. The vote also signals to all Alabama citizens that maintaining a personal vendetta against a legally operating Black-owned business is more important than passing a budget for our state. We stand with the ACLU, the National Association of Pregnant Women, the National Women’s Law Center, Advocates for Youth, SisterSong, and ALL women and men around the country — as well as in our state — who protect the legal and reproductive freedoms of women. In this particular case, we stand with the Alabama Women’s Center. We are appalled that the legislature is poised, once again, to create unnecessary legal battles in federal court.