Alabama looking to tighten abortion rules

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — State health officials said Wednesday they are proposing new rules that would reduce the number of abortions a doctor can perform before the practice would have to be regulated as an abortion clinic.

While rules now define an abortion clinic as any facility that performs 30 or more abortions during any two months in a year, the proposed regulation would define it as any place that performs 10 or more abortions in any single month and 100 or more in a year.

An attorney for the Alabama Department of Public Health, Brian Hale, said the proposal will be considered during a public hearing set for Oct. 24.

Hale said the new rule is partly in response to the state’s legal fight to shut down what a judge ruled was a doctor operating an illegal abortion clinic in Birmingham.

The Rev. Terry Gensemer, director of Charismatic Episcopal Church for Life, called the proposed change a step in the right direction.

“I’d like to see the number even lower,” said Gensemer.

The proposed rule, which the department can implement without legislative action, follows a court case in which a Jefferson County judge ordered the shutdown of what he ruled was an illegal abortion clinic run by Dr. Bruce Norman in Birmingham in a building owned by longtime abortion clinic operator Diane Derzis.

The number of abortions performed by Norman became an issue in the case because of the state limits. Norman denied he was subject to state regulation because he wasn’t performing 30 or procedures in the building during a month.

While abortion opponents are asking the state to inspect the building because they suspect Norman is still using it to perform abortions, Hale said the agency has no indication the doctor is continuing to practice in the building.

Aside from making it easier for the state to regulate doctors who perform abortions, Hale said the proposed rule also would bring Alabama’s rules in line with those in other states.

A lawyer for Norman, Scott Morro, said the physician would like to reopen a medical practice that performs abortion but couldn’t sustain an office under the proposed rule of performing fewer than 10 abortions a month.

“It’s almost making it impossible for Dr. Norman to keep going,” said Morro.

The proposed regulation follows a rule passed by legislators that makes it more difficult for abortion doctors to operate in the state by requiring them to have admitting privileges in area hospitals and setting new rules for the physical dimensions inside abortion clinics.

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