Alabama lawmakers pass measure to tighten rules for abortion clinics

Alabama lawmakers late Tuesday gave final passage to a measure placing stricter regulations on clinics that provide abortions.

The state House voted 68-21 to give final passage to the Women's Health and Safety Act. The vote came hours after the state Senate voted 20-10 to approve the bill after amending the measure to require clinics to tell patients what medications they had received.

The votes in the GOP-led legislature, mostly along partly lines, send the measure to Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who backs the legislation.

Proponents say the regulations will protect women. Opponents say they will make it harder for women to exercise their right to get an abortion.

The bill requires abortion clinics to use doctors who have approval to admit patients to hospitals in the same city. Some clinics now use doctors from other cities that don't have local hospital privileges. A similar law in Mississippi is threatening to close that state's only abortion clinic, which is challenging the law in court.

The bill also sets stricter building requirements, including wider halls and doors and better fire suppression systems. The state Department of Public Health, which regulates Alabama's five abortion clinics, reports that most will not meet the stricter standards.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, said the bill "is trying to make it safer to have abortion" and is not designed to stop the medical procedures in the state.

Sen. Harri Anne Smith, I-Slocomb, said the bill is not about safety, but about setting requirements that doctors can't meet because hospitals won't give them admitting privileges. "You are not telling your constituents the real truth -- that you are trying to close these clinics so there will be no abortions in Alabama," she said.

Democratic Sen. Linda Coleman of Birmingham said Republicans who oppose the role of government in the federal health care overhaul seem fine with government getting involved when women want to decide whether to start a family.

"We want government out of our homes. We want to decide what is best for us," she said.

Under the bill, abortion clinics will be required to ask any girl under age 16 the name and age of the person who got her pregnant. She doesn't have to answer. If she does answer and the father is more than two years older, the clinic must report that to police for investigation of a possible sex crime. If the girl is younger than 14, the clinic must report her name to the state Department of Human Resources for review.

Republican Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale said that provision is aimed at uncovering cases of sexual abuse of young girls.

The bill passed after about 200 opponents held a rally outside the Statehouse.

The Alabama Center for Health Statistics reports 9,523 abortions were performed in Alabama in 2011 and 171 involved girls under 16.

Alabama is already one of 10 states that prohibit abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and later. That law was enacted in 2011