Rep. Terri Collins, the Alabama lawmaker who sponsored what is now the state's near-total ban on abortions without exceptions for rape and incest, said recently that it’s not her preferred pro-life law.

“I still like the heartbeat bill,” Collins told Alabama Daily News about the fetal heartbeat legislation she sponsored in previous legislative sessions.

Unlike the state’s new law that makes performing almost all abortions at any stage of pregnancy a felony, Collins’s heartbeat bills had exceptions for cases of rape and incest. It prohibited abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

“I think most of the Legislature would prefer to see a heartbeat bill,” Collins said last week.

But the stated goal of Alabama’s new law is to force a legal challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court to Roe v. Wade, and to argue that fetuses have personhood rights.

“Until Roe v. Wade is addressed, we can’t have a heartbeat bill,” Collins said.

Several other states recently passed fetal heartbeat bills. Mississippi’s is currently being challenged.

Collins said she expects Alabama’s law, which does not go into effect for six months, to be enjoined. Pro-choice groups have vowed to challenge it, and a legal fight could take years. There’s no guarantee that the Supreme Court would choose to hear a challenge to Alabama’s law, or any other state’s abortion law.

But Collins said if her law were upheld, and she were still a lawmaker, she’d definitely carry a bill to allow for rape and incest exemptions in an Alabama abortion restriction law.

“Would I carry that heartbeat bill? Yes,” she said.

Similarly, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, recently told reporters that even if this law is upheld, it’s “not necessarily” the final word in Alabama.

“What if we took that law and came back to Alabama and amended it and put in it stipulations for rape and incest, which is very possible,” McCutcheon said.

Barbara Ann Luttrell, director of communications for Planned Parenthood Southeast, said it’s appalling that Collins would sponsor legislation if she doesn’t believe in it.

“It just goes to show that this is nothing more than a political stunt,” Luttrell said. “And it is truly laughable to imply that Alabama lawmakers would retroactively expand women's rights or access to health care when they have spent decades dismantling those very things.”

Groups that supported Alabama’s new law like it as it as passed.

“When it is all said and done, (the Alabama Policy Institute) believes that life begins at conception,” Executive Director Phil Williams said.

“We also fully acknowledge that the exceptions question is the most difficult portion of the debate,” he said. “We get it; we are not callous or indifferent to the issues.”

But life is life, he said, and every life is due protections.

Last year, Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment that says it's the policy of Alabama “to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life …”

Alabama’s new law does allow exceptions for the health of the mother. Collins said drafters of the bill went back and forth over an exemption that allows for abortion if the woman might harm herself or the fetus.

House Bill 314 allows for medically necessary abortions if the woman has a condition that “necessitates the termination of her pregnancy” to prevent her death or substantial injury.”

That doesn’t apply “to a condition based on a claim that the woman is suffering from an emotional condition, or a mental illness which will cause her to engage in conduct that intends to result in her death or the death of her unborn child.”

However, if a second doctor, an Alabama-licensed psychiatrist with at least three years of experience, determines she has a serious mental illness that could cause her to kill herself or the unborn child, abortion is allowed.

It would have to be performed in a hospital by a licensed doctor who has admitting privileges there.

Collins said the possibility that the exemption could be used as a loophole for women seeking abortions was raised.

“There were several (people) in the public hearing that mentioned that,” Collins said. “But taking care of that mother was critical, and I’m glad it is in the bill.”

Luttrell said that even with a few exemptions, recent abortion ban bills go too far.

“And it just highlights the fact that decisions about whether to start a family, pursue adoption, or have an abortion should be left up to a patient and their doctor in all circumstances — not just circumstances that politicians deem appropriate,” Luttrell said. “These exemptions put the burden on the patient and, yes, as with every aspect of anti-abortion legislation they disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color. People with means will always be able to get the health care they need.”

mary.sell@decaturdaily.com. Twitter @DD_MarySell.

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