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Alabama Legislature OKs abortion limits; Kansas clinic reopens

April 04, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • This is the site for the South Wind Women's Center.
This is the site for the South Wind Women's Center. (Mike Hutmacher / The Wichita…)

Alabama this week moved to tighten the regulation of clinics and of medical personnel who perform abortions, the latest step in what abortion rights advocates argue is a campaign to use the regulatory power of government to limit a woman’s right to an abortion.

The Alabama legislature on Tuesday gave final passage to a measure that places restrictions, including a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have hospital privileges. The House voted 68-21 to approve the bill, known as the Women's Health and Safety Act, hours after the Senate voted 20-10 to approve it. Republican Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign it.

The bill also sets stricter building requirements, including wider halls and doors and better fire suppression systems.

Once the bill is signed, backers of abortion rights have said they expect to sue, as they have in other states, including Mississippi, where a stay has blocked enforcement while the court decides whether the law conflicts with a federal decisions on women’s right to have an abortion.

“We are definitely going to explore every possible option to protect the women’s health and safety in Alabama,” Nikema Williams, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast, told Bloomberg News.

In recent months, North Dakota and Arkansas passed legislation that goes to the heart of the 1973 Supreme Court decisions giving women a right to an abortion. In Roe v. Wade and other cases, the court upheld abortion rights up to the point at which a fetus is viable outside the womb. Medicine puts that at usually 22 to 24 weeks. North Dakota’s ban starts when there is fetal heartbeat and Arkansas bans abortions after 12 weeks. Both cases are probably heading to the courts.

But in the federal rulings, the courts left open a host of possibilities that some form of state regulation might be legal, depending on how the laws are crafted and how new courts interpret them. Groups on both sides of the abortion issue have been fighting to find those limits for decades.

For example, at least six states have passed laws requiring hospital privileges for doctors at abortion facilities, and four others are considering similar measures.

Meanwhile, a Kansas abortion clinic that closed in 2009 after one of its doctors was murdered by an anti-abortion activist, reopened this week.

The Wichita clinic has been closed since Dr. George Tiller was slain in a church in May 2009. Scott Roeder is serving a life sentence after explaining that he killed Tiller, 67, to stop abortions. The clinic at the time was one of the few to perform late-term abortions.

The new facility, called South Wind Women's Center, will offer abortions through the 14th week of pregnancy, even though abortions are legal through about 20 weeks under Kansas law, said Julie Burkhart, director of the Trust Women Foundation, which owns the clinic.

“It's just our comfort level. It's where our doctors want it,” Burkhart told the Associated Press. Burkart had worked closely with Tiller.

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