Pro-life lawmakers are a heartbeat away from ending abortion in Alabama (Opinion by J. Pepper Bryars)

Abortion rights supporters are worried that Alabama could soon tie North Dakota for having the toughest abortion restrictions in the nation thanks to a group of bills moving through the state legislature.

“Alabama GOP advances multiple extremist anti-abortion bills,” read a headline in the far-left Daily Kos blog, and another in the liberal Huffington Post alerted readers that “Draconian abortion restrictions advance in Alabama legislature.”

That’s good news for pro-life activists in Alabama. They began their incremental battle last year by first tightening the licensing requirements for abortion clinics. Now they’re seeking to restrict what happens inside, first with a bill to ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected and another to close a loophole that allows minors to bypass the state’s parental notification law.

The “heartbeat bill,” introduced by Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs, is based on what many believe is a medical fact – abortion stops a beating heart. Depending on what device and procedure is used, an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be heard anytime from a few weeks to a couple of months after conception. Similar heartbeat bills have been attempted in several states but only two – measures in Arkansas and North Dakota – ever became law. Federal judges blocked them from taking effect.

The other bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, seeks to close the loophole that allows minors to too easily bypass the parental notification law. Currently, a minor doesn’t need parental permission for an abortion if a court finds she would suffer abuse if her parents learned of the pregnancy. It may sound reasonable, but the law allows charges of parental abuse to be made through hearsay evidence, which are essentially unverifiable claims. A claim of abuse, without further corroboration, may be viewed as evidence of abuse. The bill would make hearsay inadmissible, raising the bar upon which judges can base their decisions.

Why is this needed? A recent study by the Arizona Department of Health Services indicates the judicial bypass may be too leniently given. Since 2010, about 75-percent of all requests to keep abortion secret from a minor’s parents were granted in Arizona, according to an AP report.

Helena Silverstein, a Lafayette University researcher and abortion law specialist, told the AP that the same statistics can be seen nationwide. “In every state I have studied, or other people have studied, the pattern is the same,” Silverstein said.

In Mobile, former juvenile court judge James T. Strickland told the AP in 1997 that he couldn’t deny any requests because higher courts believed judges violated a girl’s constitutional rights if the bypass wasn’t granted.

“If I didn’t approve, it would be reversed on appeal,” Strickland said.

In the wake of Alabama’s legislative efforts, abortion rights supporters are retreating to familiar territory – the courts.

“This legislature is yet again putting the state of Alabama at risk of litigation,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.

Good. Aside from blocking some of the 25 abortions that are performed everyday in Alabama, picking a legal fight over the law that permits them is partially the point.

Pro-life supporters have legislated around the edges of Roe vs. Wade for decades, and while progress has been made, the fact remains that in most states an unborn child can be aborted for any reason and during any point of a pregnancy. Laws limiting the procedure to the first trimester and outlawing partial-birth abortions are full of loopholes, and prosecutions are unheard of in all but the most gruesome cases.

It’s about time Alabama challenged the shaky legal foundation and outdated medical information that Roe vs. Wade was based upon. The more states that show a willingness to confront the decision, the less cover the Supreme Court has to hide behind. Sooner or later it will be forced to take a case and bring the decision into the modern era.

Meanwhile, perhaps Alabama shouldn’t settle with being tied with North Dakota for the most stringent abortion laws. Once our lawmakers finish with the current set of proposals they should seek additional ways of regulating, restricting and ultimately ending the practice of abortion in our state. After all, every heart has a right to beat.

(J. Pepper Bryars grew up in Mobile and is now a writer living in Huntsville. Contact him at and