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Alabama Wants To Criminalize Something That Doesn't Even Happen In the State

Legislators aim to send doctors who don’t care for children “born alive” during an abortion to prison.

by Carter Sherman
May 22 2019, 4:38pm

Days after Alabama passed a law to ban nearly all abortions in the state, its state House passed another abortion bill on Tuesday. This time, legislators want to criminalize doctors who don’t care for children “born alive” during an abortion.

This does not happen in Alabama, according to letters to the legislature written by two physicians and read aloud during debate on the measure, House Bill 491.

A pregnancy is generally considered viable after about 24 weeks of pregnancy. None of Alabama’s three abortion clinics perform abortions past 22 weeks.

“Thus, to medical providers, HB 491 is a fallacy, actually, a painful joke,” wrote one pediatrician, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

Under the bill, if a child is born after a botched abortion, a doctor must “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious physician would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” Failing to do so would amount to a Class B felony and leave a physician facing at least 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Read more: We spoke with a rape survivor about Alabama's abortion ban.

In another letter, an OB-GYN said that it is impossible to resuscitate fetuses born during the first trimester and early second trimester. The technology simply doesn’t exist; right now, the doctor wrote, “That is the stuff of science fiction.”

But state Rep. Tracy Estes, a Republican, said the bill was a “common decency issue,” according to the Montgomery Advertiser. State Rep. Ginny Shaver, who introduced the bill and modeled it after similar legislation in Texas, said that she had heard stories of times when a baby was born after a botched abortion, but declined to share specifics.

In states outside of Alabama, a tiny fraction of abortions — about 1.3%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — take place during or after 21 weeks of pregnancy. This tends to happen when a pregnancy threatens a mother’s life, or when a fetus is not viable or wouldn’t live long after birth due to a severe abnormality.

A minuscule percentage of abortions involve infants who show signs of life at birth. In some agonizing cases, a woman may make the choice, with her doctors, to not resuscitate an infant that won’t live long after birth. Data collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, between 2003 and 2014, there were 143 deaths involving infants born alive during a failed abortion, according to the Associated Press.

Read more: Abortion is still legal in Alabama, but people are already terrified.

“Even though we don’t do late-term abortions in Alabama, the situation still exists to where it could still happen,” Shaver said, claiming women could lie how how far they are into their pregnancy. AL.com reported. She also questioned whether Alabama abortion clinics’ records were correct.

An abortion that happens after 21 weeks is sometimes referred to as a “late-term abortion,” but that’s not medically accurate. Doctors only classify a pregnancy as “late-term” if it goes on past a woman’s due date.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly talked about similar legislation that, he said, would allow “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth,” or that would let “the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.”

That does not happen. At all.

“I think it’s irresponsible for us as a Legislature to pass laws when we don’t have the data that actually backs it up,” state Rep. Merika Coleman, a Democrat, said.

The bill passed 66-18, and will now head to the state Senate. Like the House, the Senate is controlled by Republicans.

“We’ve got to hope if a lady is in a clinic where an abortion is performed, maybe a doctor has a heart and is willing to save a baby that is still alive,” Republican state Rep. Lynn Greer said during the vote. “Those people who aren’t going to come to Alabama because we’re pro-life, we don’t need them anyhow.”

Meanwhile, last week, Alabama passed a law that would only allow abortions to take place if the pregnancy posed a “serious health risk” to the mother. Under the bill, there would be no exceptions for rape or incest. The ban is not yet in effect, and abortion rights groups are planning on suing to keep it that way.

Cover image: Protestors participate in a rally against one of the nation's most restrictive bans on abortions on May 19, 2019 in Montgomery, Alabama. Demonstrators gathered to protest HB 314, a bill passed by the Alabama Legislature last week making almost all abortion procedures illegal. (Photo by Julie Bennett/Getty Images)