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Planned Parenthood builds Alabama clinic despite abortion law

Lawsuit filed against Alabama abortion ban

Planned Parenthood is building the stage for another possible fight over abortion in Alabama: a large women's clinic that's under construction despite the state's passage of a near-total ban on abortions.

Located beside an interstate highway in downtown Birmingham, the 10,000-square-foot structure is now nothing but a steel frame and roof. Workers under the constant watch of security guards appear to be installing electrical wiring, plus heating and cooling units.

The new facility could be complete around November, which is the same time the new state law will take effect unless blocked by courts. Abortion critics vow to oppose the opening, but a spokeswoman for the women's health organization said neither the new law nor opponents were a factor in the project.

"We are a doctor that Birmingham has counted on for decades, and we are committed to continuing to provide that care," said Barbara Ann Luttrell, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based Planned Parenthood Southeast.

Construction began in January and is continuing despite the Republican-controlled Legislature's passage of a near-ban on abortion. Gov. Kay Ivey signed the law in May, making it the most restrictive anti-abortion measure passed in the United States since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

The legislation — dubbed the "Human Life Protection Act" — bans all abortions in the state except when "abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk" to the woman, according to the bill's text. It criminalizes the procedure, reclassifying abortion as a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison for doctors. Attempted abortions will be reclassified as a Class C felony penalty, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The legislation makes no exceptions for victims or rape or incest. It is one of several bills restricting abortion passed in Republican-controlled states in recent months.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed suit at the end of May to challenge the near-ban. But no court hearing is set, so abortion opponents say they hope the opening will be blocked by some combination of the new law, public pressure and a state agency.

Regardless of the law, abortion opponents aim to convince the Alabama Department of Public Health to deny a license for the facility and they've tried to convince construction contractors to refuse work on the building through phone calls and emails, said Rev. Terry Gensemer of Metro Birmingham Life Forum.

"It was surprising when we found out that they were going to build this," said Gensemer. "My question is after the bill passage, why are they continuing to be so aggressive when the possibility exists that they won't be able to be in business?"

Alabama has a long history of passing laws to restrict abortion and Luttrell said there was "absolutely no slowdown due to the legislative session" or the new law.

The only work delays so far may be linked to a rainy spring, she said and Planned Parenthood is complying with all laws "so there should be no reason we would not be granted a license."

The new clinic will be located on a lot that records show the organization purchased last year for $430,600. It would replace the current Planned Parenthood clinic in Birmingham, where opponents say abortions haven't been performed regularly since 2017. Luttrell says the current clinic takes appointments for the procedure when it can find a doctor to perform abortions.

The nonprofit organization's clinic in Mobile is closed for renovations, Luttrell said. That leaves only three abortion clinics operating in the state in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville. None of those are operated by Planned Parenthood.

Luttrell said Planned Parenthood hopes courts block the new law by the time the new clinic is ready to open. Aside from abortion, it will offer birth control, cancer testing and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases, she said.

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