Complaint challenges ban on abortion clinics near schools

AP News
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Posted: Jun 02, 2016 7:49 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Abortion clinic owners on Thursday filed a challenge to two new Alabama abortion restrictions, one banning clinics near schools and another banning a common second-trimester abortion procedure.

The complaint filed by American Civil Liberties Union in Montgomery federal court said the school location restriction would close two abortion clinics that perform more than half of the abortions in the state, and the procedure ban would severely curtail second-trimester abortion access throughout Alabama.

"Some politicians seem to be laser focused on stopping a woman who has decided to have an abortion from actually getting one," said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. "It's long past time for our elected officials to stop interfering with a woman's personal decisions and to start dealing with the very real problems in our state."

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley last month signed into law a ban on abortion clinics within 2,000 feet of public K-8 schools. He also approved a ban of a second-trimester abortion procedure known as dilation & evacuation, or D&E. The laws are set to go into effect Aug. 1.

The location bill targeted the Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville. The clinic moved to a new location in 2013 in order to comply with a new state law requiring clinics to meet the same building code requirements as outpatient surgical centers. The new location is down the street from a K-8 magnet school.

The restriction could also affect a Tuscaloosa women's clinic. The clinic is more than a mile's drive to the nearest school. However, its property and the school's campus back up to the same wooded area. According to Alabama Department of Public Health data, the Huntsville and Tuscaloosa clinics performed 5,833 abortions in 2014, 72 percent of all abortions in the state that year.

Legislation supporters said abortion clinics should not be close to schools.

"We do zoning laws for all types of business. The atmosphere around clinics that perform daily abortions are volatile and very graphic and should not be in proximity to our children in K-8," said Rep. Ed Henry, R-Decatur.

The complaint filed Thursday seeks to amend an existing lawsuit over a state requirement that abortion clinics have backup doctors with hospital admitting privileges.

Bentley spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis said the governor did not have an immediate response to the complaint.

Dilation & evacuation, or surgical abortions, are used in the majority of procedures in the second trimester — or after 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In the procedure, the cervix and the contents of the uterus are removed.

Alabama lawmakers who supported the bill called surgical abortion "barbaric" and likened it to medieval forms of punishment. Legislation opponents called the bill an attempt to interfere with a woman's medical decisions.

"The D&E ban would criminalize the safest and most common second-trimester abortion procedure, severely restricting access to second-trimester abortion in Alabama," lawyers with the ACLU wrote in the complaint.

Similar bans were enacted in Kansas and Oklahoma but those laws have at least been temporarily blocked by the courts.

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This story has been edited to correct the dateline.