"When we hear the sound, we know there is life, and that's why it's important for us not to kill a live, beating heart," said Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs, who sponsored the fetal-heartbeat bill.
McClurkin's bill would require a doctor to check for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion, and would make it a felony to perform an abortion after a heartbeat is detected. That could, in effect, ban all abortions after 6 or 7 weeks of gestation.
The House Committee on Health approved McClurkin's bill with little debate Tuesday, along with a bill that would extend the waiting period for women seeking abortions from 24 to 48 hours; a bill that would tighten restrictions on minors seeking an abortion; and a bill that would require women to receive information about hospice care when seeking abortions because the fetus is likely to die soon after birth.
All four bills will go to the full House for a vote.
Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery, said the fetal-heartbeat bill wouldn't stand up in court, where abortion rights have been upheld for the last 40 years.
"If you outlaw abortion at six weeks, you're clearly violating federal law," Hubbard said.
Three of the bills passed the committee unanimously. There seemed to be a unanimous "yes" in the voice vote on the fetal heartbeat bill, but Hubbard told reporters later that he cast a vote against that bill.
At a hearing last week, abortion rights advocates panned all four bills, saying they imposed pointless limits on women's right to choose. In Tuesday's hearings, the only objections were from Democratic lawmakers who said it was unwise to pass laws that would clearly lead to lawsuits.
"I don't want to pass a bill where I know we'll get sued in federal court," said Rep. Berry Forte, D-Eufaula.
At a rally in front of the State House, abortion opponents cheered when the passage of the four bills was announced. House Speaker Mike Hubbard, addressing the crowd, said the Republican supermajority in both houses made it possible to address abortion legislation that was impossible under Democratic control.
"Four years ago, right to life legislation didn't stand a chance in this Legislature," he said.
Republicans have introduced bills to restrict abortion every year since they took control of the Legislature in 2010. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill that would impose new regulations on the operation of abortion clinics, including a requirement that abortions be performed only by doctors with admitting privileges at hospitals near their clinics.
Abortion rights advocates said the bill was a back-door attempt to shut clinics down. A suit to stop the bill is now before a federal court.
Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.