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Pro-choice and pro-life advocates take aim at Alabama Heartbeat Act

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Screening Examinations. Heart ultrasound image on computer screen. Selective focus, Space for text

The Alabama legislative session is currently underway. Before lawmakers headed back to the state Capitol, the issue of abortion became front and center.

House members pre-filed a bill that would ban abortion after a “fetal heartbeat” has been detected. The legislation would also follow the lead of Texas in allowing civil lawsuits against anyone who performs, aids or abets an abortion.

“It’s inaccurate to call it a heartbeat act at all. What we're really talking about is a ban on abortion at six weeks of pregnancy,” said Kaitlin Welborn. She’s a Reproductive Rights Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Alabama.

Welborn said there’s no science behind the proposed Alabama Heartbeat Act. She said rather, the legislation is an attempt at cracking down on already strict abortion laws in the state.

“There is actually no heart in the embryo at that point in time,” Welborn said. “It bans all abortion when there is a form of cardiac activity. So, what we're really talking about is a very extreme ban on abortion with fancy wording to make abortions sound worse than it actually is.”

But pro-life advocates like Herb Geraghty said that’s not the case.

“These are children that have the same rights, or should have the same rights, recognized as a child who is 1 month old or 1 year old,” Geraghty said.

Geraghty is the Executive Director for Rehumanize International. The secular nonpartisan human rights organization opposes violence against human beings of any kind. The group advocates against abortion and the death penalty.

“When I look at laws like the proposed one in Alabama that ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat, I'm excited that legislators are taking steps to end the violence of abortion,” Geraghty said.

The Alabama Heartbeat Act does not provide any exceptions for abortions. That includes patients who become pregnant due to rape, incest or abuse.

The measure states it would also allow civil lawsuits to be brought against “any person who performs or induces an abortion-- or who knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.”

Welborn with the ACLU of Alabama said this is dangerous, and she compares the provision to “bounty hunting.”

“This band puts neighbor against neighbor-- inviting people to snitch on each other simply for exercising their constitutional rights,” Welborn said. “And it's not just the abortion provider who could be sued. It's any person who drives someone to get an abortion, or an abortion fund who provides the fund abortion or even a member of the clergy who counseled someone on abortion.”

One might assume the civil lawsuit aspect of the legislation would win over pro-life advocates like Geraghty, but that’s not the case. Speaking for Rehumanize International, he said the proposed civil suits of the Alabama Heartbeat Act isn’t reflective of the pro-life movement.

“Do I love the civil penalties as opposed to treating abortion as you know, a criminal crime as the homicide of an adult or a born child or anyone else would be? No, I don't. And I don't think that even most pro-life people want that to be the way that we legislate abortion,” said Geraghty.

Welborn said the provision will also endanger relationships between doctors and patients.

"If you are in the circumstance where you have an unwanted pregnancy that you want to terminate, you should be able to go to your doctor and you should be able to talk to them and receive basic medical care. This bill would prevent people from doing that,” she said.

Welborn said legislation like the proposed Alabama Heartbeat Act creates a slippery slope. The concern is that it could make it difficult or even impossible for anyone to defend their civil rights or civil liberties in court.

“So, no matter what side of the aisle you're on it, no matter what your views on abortion are, it's an overreach,” she said. “And you should be very alarmed because this sort of framework can be used for anything.”

But Geraghty said even if the legislation isn’t ideal, he said it’s still a move in the right direction for pro-life.

“I think that while these laws again are never going to be perfect; they're sort of what we have to work with now,” Geraghty said. “And so, I'm excited to use this as a starting point to find more innovative ways to protect the pre-born in the law.”

APR reached out to Republican House member Jamie Kiel. He’s the primary sponsor of the Alabama Heartbeat Act. We also reached out to several other supporters of the bill and received no reply.

Baillee Majors is the Morning Edition host and a reporter at Alabama Public Radio.
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