THE ISSUE: Whatever one’s stance on abortions, legislators should not be pushing unconstitutional laws just for the publicity. There are better, and less expensive, ways to advocate against abortion.
When Alabamians elect candidates to represent them in Montgomery, they do so with an expectation that the elected officials will recognize the weighty responsibility that comes with the ability to make laws.
That expectation has been foiled time and again by a Legislature that too often passes obviously unconstitutional laws, counting on winning political points from their constituents.
The “fetal heartbeat” bill sponsored in the House by state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, with 42 co-sponsors, is an unfortunate example.
Collins was open in her reason for sponsoring a bill that — according to long-standing U.S. Supreme Court precedent — violates the U.S. Constitution.
“My concern right now is to move the legislation through the House,” Collins said Tuesday. “I believe that education is always a good thing. So when you talk about life, to understand that baby in the womb that you can’t see really does have a heartbeat is great education to have circulating around the state.”
Passing unconstitutional laws is not the most efficient way to educate the public about abortion.
Collins, a former board member of Decatur Sav-A-Life Pregnancy Center, is sincere in her concerns about abortion, as are many in the state. There are many ways to educate pregnant women about the brutal details surrounding abortion. Legislators can speak at churches, use social media and support pregnancy centers. They can send out press releases and place flyers on doorknobs.
Passing a law that makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion that is legal under the U.S. Constitution, however, is not the best approach.
Probably because the goal of the bill is “education,” not sound legislation, it makes no effort to fall within constitutional guidelines.
It includes no exceptions for rape or incest. It does not specify the method by which the fetal heartbeat should be detected. That’s a serious defect. According to the Endowment for Human Development, a fetus’s heart begins to beat 22 days into the pregnancy. Invasive ultrasounds could thus detect the heartbeat before most women even know they are pregnant. Even conventional ultrasounds can detect a heartbeat as early as six weeks, again before many women know they are pregnant.
The U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited states from banning abortions before the fetus is viable, between 24 and 28 weeks.
It is, of course, possible the Supreme Court will revisit the issue. The Supreme Court will have an opportunity to hear arguments over laws in Arkansas and North Dakota that conflict with its previous decisions. If the court broadens state’s rights to restrict abortion, the Alabama Legislature can pass a constitutional law.
The question is why the Alabama Legislature, already facing a staggering deficit, would set itself up for another expensive lawsuit that it will almost certainly lose.
The unfortunate answer is that the purpose of the bill is not to use the criminal justice system to constitutionally regulate the conduct of women and their doctors. It is merely, as Collins suggested, a bill designed to create a high-profile controversy that will cause people “to understand that baby in the womb that you can’t see really does have a heartbeat.”
There is nothing wrong with legislators proclaiming their views on abortion. There is much wrong with using their power, and the state’s resources, to push unconstitutional bills as a form of public relations.