ACLU, Alabama Women’s Center in Huntsville plan to fight abortion clinic bill regarding proximity to schools

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill late Wednesday to prohibit abortion clinics from locating near public schools.

The bill would bar state health officials from issuing or renewing licenses to clinics that are within 2,000 feet of a kindergarten-through-eighth grade public school.

Representatives voted in favor of it, 73-18.  Senators approved the bill in March on a 27-6 vote.

Republican Sen. Paul Sanford sponsored SB205 saying he wants to force an abortion clinic to move away from a school in Huntsville. The Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives is located on Sparkman Drive, across the street from the Academy for Academics and Arts, a public magnet school in the city.

A clinic in Tuscaloosa is also impacted by this legislation.

Some lawmakers were upset about how the measure passed. The move came after the House skipped over several bills to vote on that bill and another regarding abortion.

"We have an 85-million dollar Medicaid deficit, but they don't want to solve that problem," said Clinic Administrator Dalton Johnson, "but they do want to reduce the access in Alabama to women for their reproductive rights."

With the session rapidly reaching its end Wednesday, members of the House Black Caucus said repeated Republican attempts to end debate were unfair and undemocratic. Caucus Chair John Knight said the motions were "muzzle tactics."

Security was called twice as caucus members sang several refrains of  "We Shall Overcome" in the chamber, though no one was escorted out.

The other bill regarding abortion that passed Wednesday bans a second trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation, or D&E.

Both still need to be signed by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, but a handful of pro-life activists stood on the sidewalk in front of the Alabama Women's Center on Thursday to tout the passing of the bill.

Supporters of the measure said the clinic, and the protests it attracts, pose a public safety risk to young students. Parents have also approached city council looking for an ordinance to ban the protesting during drop-off and pick-up times.

"We believe that the city leadership defaulted on their responsibilities and we had no choice, but to go to the state, where we found people who are willing to deal with this problem," said James Henderson, a pro-life supporter. "We go where the baby-killing is and we're never out to cause any problem at any school."

Johnson said even with this bill, though, not much will change.

"The protestors will still be out here," he said.

The Alabama Women's Center moved to its current location in 2013 after the state adopted new requirements for clinic buildings.

If Gov. Bentley does sign this latest measure into law, though, Johnson said he and the ACLU will file a lawsuit in federal court.

"It's not going to hold up in court and it's going to be another one of these things that's going to cost the taxpayers of Alabama hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in legal fees," he said.

Johnson added that even if the law is upheld, he will continue to keep an OB-GYN practice at that location.

The license for the Alabama Women's Center expires at the end of the year.

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