God in the Voting Booth: Taking a look at Alabama’s Amendment 2 – ‘Does not protect the right to abortion’

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Alabama’s Amendment 2, which will be on the ballot Tuesday, asks voters to decide if the state has a duty to protect the rights of unborn children and declare in the state constitution that residents have no right to an abortion.

Opponents of the measure argue it sets the stage for an eventual abortion ban in Alabama, if Roe vs. Wade – which legalized abortion in the U.S. – is overturned.

The measure will appear on the state ballot:

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended; to declare and otherwise affirm that it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, most importantly the right to life in all manners and measures appropriate and lawful; and to provide that the constitution of this state does not protect the right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.

It asks voters to vote “Yes” or “No.”

Rick Renshaw, political director for the Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama, which is organizing support for Amendment 2, said respect for life was enshrined in the founding documents of the United States, calling for “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

He says Amendment 2 isn’t an abortion ban.

“The language in this is basically, it affirms for the State of Alabama to be a pro-life state,” Renshsaw said. “In other words, we are for the sanctity of unborn life, and giving protections for unborn children.”

But among the concerns raised by critics of the measure, is the failure to include any exceptions to the idea that the state “does not protect the right to abortion.”

Amy Shadoin, a Huntsville CEO and psychologist, has been politically active for 30 years.

“It doesn’t provide for any sort of exceptions or exclusions, to be made,” Shadoin said. “So, when we’ve had people talk before about bills that would perhaps carve out exceptions for in the event of a rape, for incest or life of the mother, or some kind of thing like that, none of those exclusions would be available to women, if this passes and then subsequently Roe is overturned.”

Supporters of Amendment 2 say the measure isn’t aimed at language involving mothers, but the rights of children. Alabama law does make an exception for later-term abortions to protect the health of the mother, and Eric Johnston, director of the Southeastern Law Institute – which supports Amendment 2 – said future legislation would likely address that.

“Amendment 2 is only a statement of public policy.  It would require legislation creating privileges, rights or immunities as a result of it,” Johnston told WHNT News 19. “Therefore, all questions of the application of the public policy would be left in the discretion of the Legislature.  Note that the amendment permits protection ‘in all manners and measures lawful and appropriate.’  This requires the Legislature to pass laws after proper deliberation, taking into account all 'appropriate' considerations.

“The pro-life community has never viewed rape or incest as proper exceptions to abortion.  Those unfortunate acts do not change the personhood of the unborn child.  However, the Legislature would have the right to include those as exceptions, which commonly are discussed and frequently accepted.

“On the other hand, the life or health of the mother would be proper exceptions to a right to abortion.  Where applicable, in all abortion regulatory legislation we have passed in Alabama, we have included the life of the mother and her physical health as exceptions.  The pro-life community supports those exceptions.”

The group, Alabama for Healthy Families, opposes Amendment 2. Its been running ads on the issue over the past week, and has spent more than $800,000 during that time. A spokesman for the group, expressed skepticism about Alabama legislators adding exception language to any future laws.

“As it is currently written, Amendment 2 would pave the way to outlaw abortion in all cases, including rape, incest, or when the life of the woman is at risk. If the politicians who drafted Amendment 2 wanted to include those exceptions from the beginning, then they would’ve included that language instead of promising to add it later, after Amendment 2 would have already passed,” spokesman Brandon Varner told WHNT News 19.

For many people in Alabama, it’s a question of faith.

A few years ago, the Alabama Legislature passed a capital punishment update that made it death penalty offense to kill a pregnant woman, because it meant two persons were killed. The law defines “person” when referring to the victim of a criminal homicide or assault, as “a human being, including an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability.”

The state’s Supreme Court recently affirmed that law.

One study found more than 50 percent of the state’s adult population goes to church at least once a week and about 80 percent say their belief in God is absolutely certain.

Vickie Camden

Vickie Camden, a retired Department of Defense worker, is now chaplain for the Republican Women of Huntsville. She supports Amendment 2.

“I do not like to see any of our tax monies, any of our funding, anything like that, going towards killing children,” Camden said. “I really do believe that at the moment of conception, the person is there.”

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said abortion should end.

“And abortion was a creation of the court, just like many other rights,” Moore said. “They create a right that takes away a basic right, for example, the right to life.”

Shadoin, who's been engaged in politics for 30 years, says outlawing abortion won`t end abortion.

“Once you do that, poor women will die, because they`ll do self-induced abortions, or they`ll go to back alley people who don`t know what they`re doing,” Shadoin said.  “Women who are well-off will have the means to go have a safe procedure in some other country.”

Renshaw said the issue for him is guided by his faith and his political philosophy.

“We all are inspired literally with the breath of God,” he says, citing the book of Genesis. “That leads to then … what’s the value of every human life?”

But whose God decides?

Shadoin says Amendment 2 -- and the effort to overturn Roe vs. Wade -- seeks to impose the same value system on everyone.

“I understand that … many of those folks think that they are operating from a very moral place. I disagree with them about that,” Shadoin said, “Because I think that the end result is that they’ve not only taken away a health care choice from people, they’ve also taken away a choice about their moral and ethical and religious values.”

Opponents of Amendment 2 worry that with a new U.S. Supreme Court justice, the politics around Roe vs. Wade may be shifting, and Amendment 2 is laying the groundwork for an eventual abortion ban.

Supporters of Amendment 2 point out, it wouldn’t ban abortion.

“This doesn’t make any specific policy prescriptions,” Renshaw said. “The only way that those come into effect is, if and when, the national law governing abortion, which is the Roe v. Wade case, that it would have to be an outright reversal from the U.S. Supreme court, or some modifications of Roe v. Wade, which might be a kickback to the states to pass legislation that they saw fit.”

And longtime abortion clinic escort Josie Poland, of Huntsville,  is concerned that Roe is under threat. She wants to see women allowed to make a choice about their health and their own bodies.

And, she’s seen firsthand, it can be a deeply lonely choice.

“I do it so women have the right to make the choice for themselves, and I hate to see them harassed,” she said. “They are harassed when they come up here to make their choice. And I’m just very passionate about nobody else making their decisions for them.”

It’s political and intensely personal. Camden says she was a single mom, who could have chosen an abortion.

“For me personally, as a Christian, in Psalms 139 it talks about how God wove us in our mother’s womb and knew us before we were ever born,” she said.

Amy Shadoin

Shadoin agrees, it is an intensely personal choice.

“Because that is one of the things that is core for women, not just for their health care, the ability to control your fertility, and your family life,” she said. “And all of those things. That intersects in a very deep way with your ability to advance economically.”

The sides agree – on the stakes involved .

Camden says each life matters and she supports Amendment 2.

“I still feel like it`s a biblical thing, that we protect each life. Each life has value,” Camden said. “Otherwise God wouldn`t have allowed them to conceive and bring forth.”

Shadoin said opposition to Amendment 2 should be rooted in respect for individual choice.

“If you value your ability to make a choice in your life, for yourself, rather than have one imposed on you,” she said, “if you value the ability to follow the guidance of your own religious beliefs, then you should vote no on Amendment 2.”