Alabama abortion law under microscope in federal court - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

AL abortion law under microscope in federal court

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

The executive director of one of Alabama's three remaining abortion clinics took the stand Monday morning on the first day of a federal trial challenging a law passed by the Alabama legislature in 2013.

The law in question, the Women's Health and Safety Act, requires that all abortion clinics have a physician with admitting privileges to a local hospital. 

June Ayers is the Executive Director of Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery. She said the clinic had issues meeting other new requirements eight years ago but eventually was able to comply.

Back then the Alabama Department of Public Health required clinics to secure a backup physician for after hours and emergency care. RHS eventually contracted with a local OBGYN as a backup, but that was after the clinic was sanctioned for not having one during an emergency situation with a patient who had received abortion services from RHS. 

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood are challenging the Alabama law, arguing that it could cause clinics like RHS and others in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville to close because admitting privileges for physicians are hardly guaranteed. The primary physicians at RHS, for instance, both come from outside the Montgomery area to perform the procedures on Fridays. 

Ayers said she has obtained an application for admitting privileges to Jackson Hospital for her visiting physicians but added they're automatically disqualified from receiving them because they don't live in the Montgomery area. 

The State countered, reminding Ayers that the clinic was able to comply with the 2006 backup physician requirement and there's no reason it couldn't comply now. 

During the second half of the day's proceedings, the judge heard from Dr. Sheila Katz, a sociologist at Sonoma State University in California with expertise in issues that affect low-income women and families.

She testified that if clinics were to close in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Mobile, then women who live in those places would have new financial burdens on them to travel elsewhere if they wanted to have an abortion.

By her research, it could cost a low-income woman anywhere from $150 in travel, childcare, and lodging costs to $450 in order to have an abortion in Tuscaloosa if she was traveling from Montgomery.

The lawyer for Alabama's Attorney General attempted to counter by informing Katz that a woman in Mobile could simply travel to Pensacola, a 58 mile drive, in order to have an abortion. Katz argued that if the admitting privileges law is changed or blocked altogether, then a woman in Mobile wouldn't have to leave the area to receive an abortion.

Federal District Judge Myron Thopson is presiding over the case that will determine, at this juncture, the constitutionality of the admitting privileges law. 

A similar law in Texas has already been upheld by a federal appeals court. Alabama's trial could continue for another two weeks.

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