Helping minors get an abortion without telling parents could soon be a crime in Alabama

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A bill introduced in the Alabama House would make it a crime for those helping individuals under the age of 18 get an abortion without informing a parent or guardian.

HB 378, sponsored Rep. Mark Gidley, R-Hokes Bluff, would make it as Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, “for any person, with the intent to conceal an abortion from a minor’s parents or guardian to harbor or transport a minor girl and obtain, or aid and abet her in obtaining, an abortion or abortion-inducing drug.” Parents would also have the right to sue under the measure.

Gidley said over the phone Wednesday that there are changes being made to the bill, and he wouldn’t be able to discuss the bill until next week, when the Legislature returns from spring break.

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“I’m not at a place where I can discuss the bill yet,” he said.

Medical emergency cases or with a judicial waiver of the consent would be exempt, and minors would also be exempt from criminal penalties or civil liability against a minor girl.

The legislation, in its current form, would allow a parent to consent to a person helping a minor.

Access to safe and confidential abortions for minors has been recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the North American Society of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, and the American Medical Association suggests physicians encourage individuals talk to a trusted adults including professional counselors, relatives, friends, teachers or a clergy, if the patient is unwilling to involve one or both parents.

The bill comes as Democrats nationwide elevated reproductive rights as a main campaign issue in the 2024 elections.

On Tuesday, Rep. Marilyn Lands, D-Huntsville, flipped a House seat campaigning on access to reproductive care, specifically vowing to tackle the state’s near-total ban on abortions. House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, who is running for Alabama’s Second Congressional district, has leaned into reproductive issues on his campaign and introduced a bill in the House to protect access to contraception in the state.

Robin Marty, executive director of the West Alabama Women’s Center, a former abortion clinic that now provides reproductive health care to low-income individuals, said that Republicans should be cautious with their anti-abortion messaging. She said that Lands “trounced her opponent in a red district by running a campaign based on making abortion more accessible.”

“Maybe state legislators should think about that a little as they showboat more bills that are meant to make getting legal abortions outside of Alabama an impossibility,” she said.

A February 2023 report on 2022 data from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 55% of Alabamians supported legal abortion in all or most cases.

Marty said that the bill is being proposed to make Republicans look like they are still working on abortion to satisfy pressures from outside groups.

“It’s an abortion restriction that exists that hasn’t passed yet and that doesn’t criminalize the person seeking the abortion. That’s all they are looking at,” she said.

Similar bills have been introduced in other state legislatures — such as Mississippi and Oklahoma — and Idaho enacted a similar legislation into law last year, which is currently under appeal with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals due to 1st amendment claims.

Stephen Stetson, director of Planned Parenthood Alabama, called the bill “blatant fear-mongering.” He said the legislation is “meant to make people too scared to offer support to a young person in need and to make pregnant people too scared to seek help from trusted adults.”

He also said that the bill is outside of the Legislature’s authority and that “just as Alabamians would never stand for another state dictating what is legal in our borders,” the state can’t enforce anti-abortion laws in other states.

“The state of Alabama does not have the authority to prevent anyone from accessing care in a state where it is legal. This bill threatens fundamental principles of our national democracy and form of governance,” Stetson said.

Stetson said that not only is this a “dangerous bill” because of its potential infringement of interstate commerce laws and government overreach, but it could also have unintended consequences.

He said that the definitions of “assistance” and “harboring” in the bill are too broad, and because the bill gives parents cause of actions, the state could “see a flood of litigation of parents suing anyone they can get their hands on, that may have helped their children in any way.”

He said that the bill doesn’t address the level of knowledge required of the person being sued. Stetson suggested a scenario where he had a a niece who spent the night before going out-of-state to get an abortion and didn’t tell him, or if he gave her a birthday card with $100 dollars in it.

He asked, “Who’s to say that I did sufficiently interrogate her about how she was going to spend the money?”

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