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Alabama Senate delays vote on abortion ban after commotion on the floor

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama State Senate on Thursday began debate of a bill to ban abortion, however a vote will have to wait until at least Tuesday after Democrats resorted to shouting down the chair after losing a procedural vote.

Sponsored by State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), HB 314 is intended to get the U.S. Supreme Court to re-examine Roe v. Wade on the basis of personhood.

The bill as passed by the House last week only would have banned all abortion except when the life of the mother is in danger. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday tacked on an amendment by State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) adding exceptions for rape and incest.

Collins and State Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville), who is carrying the bill in the Senate, argued that adding exceptions for rape and incest takes away from the legal challenge the bill is trying to mount, as the question at hand is whether the baby in the womb is a person and should have rights as such, regardless of how that baby was conceived.

Thus, after one successful 23-6 procedural vote (on the bill’s Budget Isolation Resolution), Chambliss moved to table the committee amendment regarding rape and incest.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) heard the motion, asked for the “yeas” and “nays” separately, and announced that the motion to table the Whatley amendment was successful. That is when chaos erupted, with Democrats beginning to yell into one of the two microphones on the floor.

State Sens. Vivian Davis-Figures (D-Mobile) and Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) followed Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) in protesting Ainsworth’s decision.

Afterward, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said he agreed with the sentiments expressed by his Democrat colleagues, demanding a roll call vote on the tabling motion. However, this came after Ward rejected a request for a roll call vote the day previous on the very same amendment when it was in his committee, a point that Ainsworth noted from the chair.

“Yesterday, we had a fair hearing, it was calm, it was deliberate, and I thought it was very respectful of both points of view. Today however, I did not think the process in which we just tabled that amendment was a fair thing to do,” Ward asserted.

Ward said he supports the bill but threatened to filibuster until what he viewed as the “fair” thing be done for the Democrats.

“I’m a pro-life Republican,” Ward added. “But I’m also a fair procedure Republican.”

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) then took to the podium to calm everyone down and moved that the members adjourn until Tuesday so tensions could settle down and real debate resume. He also emphasized to Ainsworth that he had done things by the book.

“Mr. President, first let me just say that you did follow the rules. That’s the process,” Marsh advised.

He explained Democrats were not quick enough to react after the motion was made and the votes were asked for to properly trigger a roll call vote.

“You have to be on your toes sometimes,” Marsh noted.

The Senate will take the bill back up on Tuesday after they gavel in at 4:00 p.m.

Marsh, who said he personally supports the rape and incest exceptions amendment, after the Senate adjourned reaffirmed to reporters that he believed the process followed by Ainsworth was correct procedurally and fair. Marsh also said the Senate Secretary had confirmed to him a motion was made by Chambliss.

“I believe the lieutenant governor followed procedure,” Marsh said. “I think people maybe had their guard down a little, maybe didn’t expect a voice vote. But he has every right to do that.”

He added that the amendment “was stripped in a fair way” through the process.

Marsh said adjourning until Tuesday will allow that amendment to be represented on that day by someone like Singleton, who vowed to do so in a gaggle with reporters.

“We’re back in a good place,” Marsh noted.

Whatley told Yellowhammer News that he wants the amendment tacked back onto the bill.

Singleton is actually on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which adopted the Whatley amendment by a contested voice vote when Ward denied a request for a roll call vote. However, Singleton was absent for that Wednesday meeting.

Yellowhammer News asked the minority leader if he felt the same way about that committee voice vote as the floor voice vote.

“I wasn’t there, I wasn’t there yesterday so I can’t talk about [that], I can only talk about when I was here today,” Singleton said.

Following the meeting, Ainsworth released a statement, saying, “Since taking the gavel, I have always followed both the spirit and letter of the Senate rules, and I will continue that practice as long as I am presiding officer.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn