Alabama State House

Alabama State House in Montgomery. (Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star)

MONTGOMERY —  A state Senate committee gave its approval Wednesday to a ban on assisted suicide and a bill that would allow health care professionals to opt out of health care procedures on conscientious grounds.

Both bills now move to the full Senate for a vote.

"There seems to be a move across the United States to maybe legalize assisted suicide," said Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, sponsor of the healthcare provider bill. "I had some healthcare providers that were concerned that they would be asked to do this."

There's no exception in Alabama's homicide laws for physician-assisted suicide, but it's not expressly banned in state law either. Members of the Senate Health Committee voted 7-1 to approve a bill that would make it a Class C felony —  punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison —  to "deliberately assist another person to commit suicide or provide aid in dying."

Lawmakers also voted 7-2 in favor of a bill that would allow health care providers to refuse a service if they first provide a statement in writing that they object to the service on religious grounds.

That bill has been before the Legislature at least two times before, but failed to pass both Houses. Critics claim it would allow doctors to limit access to a number of services, including birth control.

"I am asking now that if it comes down to a question between the right of a health care professional to lucrative employment and the access of a patient to the care that is needed at that time, that you would always place the patient's needs at the highest level," said Rev. Lynn Hopkins, a Unitarian minister who addressed the committee in a public hearing.

Deborah Love of Eagle Forum, which supports the bill, said the bill would allow exceptions for emergency care.

"This does not provide carte blanche to health care professionals," she said.

The full Senate reconvenes Thursday.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.