An Alabama state House committee held a hearing Tuesday morning on a bill that would require abortion providers to disclose their annual income to patients, the portion of that income earned from performing abortions and how much they lose monetarily when a patient backs out of the procedure.
The so-called “conflict of interest disclaimer” is just one provision of the “Ultrasound Access Act” proposed by Republican state Rep. Kerry Rich earlier this month. The bill would also require abortion providers to tell patients, both orally and in writing 48 hours before the procedure, about the proposed abortion method, gestational characteristics of the fetus, “immediate and long-term physical and psychological risks” and abortion alternatives. Doctors found to have broken the law would face a fine of up to $1 million and/or a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
In 2014, a federal appeals court declared North Carolina’s mandatory ultrasound law ― similar to Alabama’s proposed legislation ― unconstitutional, ruling that it constituted a form of forced government speech and was medically unnecessary. The Supreme Court declined to hear the state’s appeal, so the law was permanently blocked.
Biased counseling and waiting period requirements meant to dissuade abortion patients from having the procedure aren’t new, and neither are mandatory ultrasound laws. But the “conflict of interest disclaimer” appears to be a new attempt to intimidate abortion providers and cast them more as profiteers rather than providers of a constitutionally-protected form of health care.
“It is absurd to target abortion providers by requiring that they disclose their salary and a breakdown of their personal finances to their patients; something no other healthcare provider in Alabama is required to do,” Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said in a statement emailed The Huffington Post. “This is yet another example of how extreme politicians introduce unnecessary government interference into the doctor-patient relationship as part of a broader effort to end access to safe, legal abortion. ... The bottom line is this law is a demeaning intrusion on the personal, private relationship between women and their doctors.”
Susan Watson, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union Alabama, told AL.com that she was not aware of similar financial disclosure requirements in other states.
The bill is an illustration of how abortion is singled out from other outpatient medical services to stigmatize the procedure. State legislators aren’t calling for gastroenterologists to tell colonoscopy patients how much they make each year, for instance, or requiring ophthalmologists to disclose to their patients the proportion of their income derived from cataract surgeries.
If the bill makes it out of committee and then out of the legislature, it is almost guaranteed to be challenged by reproductive rights advocates, under the premise that the legislation would constitute an invasion of privacy for medical professionals.
Another GOP-backed abortion bill in Alabama would regulate abortion clinics like sex offenders, preventing them from operating within 2,000 feet of a public school. The legislation is intended to shutter northern Alabama’s only clinic offering abortion care. As RH Reality Check reported, similar legislation was unsuccessful last year.
Rich did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the legislation.
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