AL: Personhood amendment faces long odds

Posted on May 2, 2012

Montgomery Advertiser, May 2, 2012 by Brian Lyman

MONTGOMERY— Opponents dominated a public hearing Wednesday over legislation that would define individuals as persons “from the moment of fertilization and implantation into the womb.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Phil Williams, R-Gadsden, faces steep obstacles to passage before the end of the 2012 Regular Session later this month, a fact Williams acknowledged after the hearing.  But the senator said he would still press forward with the legislation.

Critics of the bill also said they would continue to fight it, saying it could compromise fertility treatments and medical procedures.

Williams told the Senate’s Health Committee his legislation was a matter of belief.

“What do you believe?” he asked members.  “Is that a life, is that a human being?  If you believe it’s a human being, you have to believe it’s a person, and if you believe it’s a person, you have to believe it’s a human being.”

But critics argued the law’s assumption that fertilization and implantation were instantaneous belied the the lengthy and complicated process by which embryos formed, and could have repercussions for those seeking in-vitro fertility treatments.  Renee Whitley, co-chair of the National Infertility Association, said the process of fertilization itself takes 18 hours, while implantation can take days.

“We don’t have a way to measure that until a woman’s body starts producing pregnancy hormones, and it shows up on a test, which can be days and days later,” she said.

The fear, Whitley said after the meeting, was that a judge interpreting the law might view the issue.

“It leaves a large question for doctors and physicians” she said, over liability and potential criminal prosecution over the matter.

A similar measure that went to Mississippi voters in a referendum last year was defeated 58 to 42 percent over concerns about the law’s unintended consequences.  Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, said she wanted to work with Williams to make the law a constitutional amendment that would have to be approved by voters in the state.  Williams said he would consider that a “friendly” amendment.

The House of Representatives approved two abortion bills earlier in the day, both aimed at restricting access to abortion.  All three will have to be passed by next Tuesday, the 27th Legislative day of the Regular Session, to take the normal route through the Legislature; after that, bills need the unanimous consent of members to be transferred to the other House.

The Senate Health Committee did not take a vote on the personhood bill Wednesday, and committee chairman Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said he did not have plans to call a meeting on the bill before next Wednesday.



Posted in: Alabama