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October 7, 1997

More Truth About Alabama Abortion Laws

by Nicole Youngman

During the municipal election season, the local chapters of the Christian Coalition and the American Center for Law and Justice (Pat Robertson's answer to the ACLU) expressed concern that a law in the Mobile City Code regarding abortion statistics reporting requirements was not being enforced. The Mobile Register ran an article stating that the law was "toothless."

The law in question is Article III of Section 27, under the heading of Health and Human Services. It states in part that "A report of each abortion performed shall be made to the county health department on forms provided by the board." The article also contains ordinances regarding counseling, informed consent, parental notice and consent for minors, licensing, standards of care, record keeping, and restrictions on abortion after viability, the use of city funds for abortions, and fetal research.

While it is true that local clinics do not send statistics on their procedures to the county health department, the reason is simple: they are required by state law, which supersedes municipal law, to send such information to the Alabama State Board of Health. While the anti-abortion organizations quoted in the Register claimed that non-enforcement of the local ordinance kept them from obtaining adequate statistics regarding the number and type of abortions performed in the area, the Rules of Alabama State Board of Health, Division Licensure and Certification, Chapter 420-5-1.03(3)(f) very clearly state:

"The administrator of each abortion or reproductive health center shall report each abortion to the Center for Health Statistics no later than ten days after the last day of the month during which the procedure was performed...The Center for Health Statistics shall periodically make available to the public aggregate data about the number of abortions performed in clinical settings statewide."

Clinics are required to complete a form that contains the following information: Patient's ID number; age; date of pregnancy termination; facility name; city, town, or location of pregnancy termination; county of pregnancy termination; residence--state; residence--city, town, or location; residence-- zip code; racial information; level of education; marital status; date of last normal period; clinical estimate of gestation; number of previous pregnancies, abortions, miscarriages, and live births; whether or not the patient was a minor or an emancipated minor; and the type of procedure performed. The form must also contain the doctor's name, the signature of the person completing the form, and the date it was completed. By state law, the original forms are destroyed after the information has been entered into the state's database, and a copy of the original is kept in the patient's file. Information identifying the patient is not provided, and information regarding clinic doctors or personnel is not available to the public.

The Health Department conducts unannounced audits of the clinics at least once a year in order to ensure that they are in full compliance with the law. Pat Mitchell, the director of the Center for Choice in Mobile, states that abortion providers are actually held to higher standards than many other doctors' offices: "Most of it I don't have a problem with. I'd like to see other health care facilities -- especially for women -- held to the same standards, particularly those who diagnose and treat pregnancy, such as the Crisis Pregnancy Centers." She states that she knows of at least three recent cases where patients at these centers have received bad medical advice -- two black women who were told that they were experiencing "normal" bleeding when they were in fact miscarrying and needed to be hospitalized, and one white woman who badly injured herself by douching with bleach in an attempt to self-abort after receiving a false positive on a pregnancy test.

Anti-abortion organizations frequently accuse clinics of operating without any sort of regulations, or of not complying with what regulations do exist, in ongoing attempts to marginalize their work and frighten away patients. This issue will very likely be brought up yet again the next time Mobile has municipal elections. One can only hope that the local media will take the time to investigate what the laws really say before they once again publicize false information.

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