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Support seen for amendment that life begins at conception

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Most Alabama lawmakers responding to an Associated Press survey say they would support a proposed constitutional amendment declaring that life begins at conception — a measure some see as a first step toward banning abortions in Alabama.

During last year's election campaigns, Democrats and Republicans listed passage of the amendment as a priority, but with the start of the 2007 regular session a little more than a week away, no lawmaker has announced plans to introduce the measure.

In the AP survey, 62 percent of House members responding and 58 percent of senators said they would support the amendment, which would also have to be approved by voters.

State Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, said he is planning to introduce a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban abortions in Alabama, except to save the life of the mother.

The ban would be similar to a proposed amendment banning abortions that passed the Legislature in South Dakota last year, but was defeated by voters.

Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, has prepared a bill that would ban abortion, except to save the life or prevent serious harm to the mother or in cases of rape or incest.

Erwin said he also may introduce the amendment defining life as beginning at conception, which he believes could lead to a ban on abortions.

"It would be a first step. When you define life as beginning at conception you are forced to look at all the applications of that concept and you have to deal with the issue of abortion," Erwin said.

One lawmaker opposed to the proposed amendment, Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, said she isn't surprised that both parties included the measure on their campaign agendas, but are not rushing to the House or Senate floors to introduce a bill.

"This issue appeals to the right wing vote. It's an emotional issue and people use it that way. I resent people using women's reproductive rights as a political issue," Todd said.

Todd said she supports the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade that legalized abortion.

"This legislation would limit the options for many women who may need to terminate a pregnancy for medical reasons," Todd said.

Birmingham attorney Eric Johnston, says defining that life begins at conception would put the state in position to ban abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe vs. Wade.

decision. He said if that happens, it will then be up to the states to come up with their own laws concerning abortion.

"It would give us a constitutional provision that an unborn child is a person," said Johnston, president of the Alabama Pro Life Coalition.

Johnston said he doubts his organization will make the measure a priority during the upcoming session, because they don't believe the proposal will be seriously considered by House and Senate leadership.

House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said House Republicans support the proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, said he's not sure if the proposed amendment will come up for a vote in the upcoming session, but said he believes lawmakers have already staked a position on the issue — referring to a bill passed last year that says if a pregnant woman is killed or assaulted a crime has been committed against two people rather than one.

"I think that implies that life begins at conception," Little said.

The sponsor of that bill last session was Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Bayou La Batre. He said defining life as beginning at conception would not ban abortions, but would be a step in that direction.

"Roe vs. Wade would still be the law of the land, but we would be on record as saying life begins at conception," Collier said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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