Arkansas Anti-Choicers Reject Abortion Restriction Bill Because it Included Exceptions for Rape and Incest

Arkansas Anti-Choicers Reject Abortion Restriction Bill Because it Included Exceptions for Rape and Incest

Jodi Jacobson

A bill to restrict insurance coverage of abortion in Arkansas was tabled after its anti-choice proponents decided they could not abide exceptions for rape and incest.

A bill to restrict insurance coverage of abortion in Arkansas failed in a state senate committee because anti-choicers felt that adding exceptions for rape and incest meant the bill didn’t go “far enough.”

The original bill, Senate Bill 113 introduced by state Senator Cecile Bledsoe, was intended to bar plans in health insurance exchanges from covering abortions, except “to save the life of the mother,” reports Kelly MacNeill of

The bill, writes MacNeill, is based on something that already confuses lots of people: the federal health care overhaul. “Under it, each state will form health insurance exchanges – big pools of insurance plans that more people could access.  Senate Bill 113 would bar plans in that exchange from covering abortions, except to save the life of the woman.”

Debate in committee on the bill revealed disagreement on the effects of the bill so stark that, MacNeill writes, many “sound like they’re talking about totally different measures.”

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Some say it’s too broad; others say it’s essential legislation; others say it’s duplicative.

The disagreement on the bill revolves around whether it affects public or private funds. The truth, according to MacNeill, is that it does both.

Almost all private plans in the state will participate in the new health insurance exchange. Some people in the exchange will be getting a federal subsidy to help them afford it – but not most people. 

To Ravina Daphtary, a health policy specialist, says that means SB 113 goes too far.

“People who are buying insurance coverage in the exchange are using their own private dollars to do that, so this bill really doesn’t do anything extra that protects public funds from being spent on abortion,” Daphtary told the House Health committee. “But it does unnecessarily encroach on people’s own ability to spend their own money on the coverage they think is best for their families.” [emphasis added]

Under the bill, women could purchase separate riders to cover abortions. But right now no such riders exist in Arkansas. And some private insurance plans that do offer coverage for abortion care would have to drop it if Bill 113 passes.

Some of these plans cover the procedure in cases of rape or incest and some when it’s medically necessary.  Both the Governor of Arkansas and Representative Jeff Wardlaw moved to exempt these conditions from the bill.  Wardlaw offered an amendment, “to ensure the protection of these private policies that already covered these instances.”

A majority of the committee voted to include the exceptions. 

The bill’s anti-choice backers, however, “were infuriated” and managed to table the bill rather than let it go forward in its altered state. 

A voter-approved amendment to the state constitution prohibits taxpayer funding of abortions except to save the mother’s life, notes MacNeill, but according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, this has been enjoined.

An invalid and enjoined provision of the Arkansas Constitution provides that no public funds may be used to pay for an abortion unless necessary to preserve the woman’s life.  Ark. Const. amend. 68, § 1.

There’s debate about how that affects the new health insurance exchange. But abortion opponents say it shows Arkansans don’t want to subsidize even abortions arising from rape and incest. 

“We always hear that this is a private decision, made between a women, her doctor, and possibly her God.  And yet, they want John Q and Jane Q Public to pay for it,” said Rose Mimms, director of Arkansas Right to Life. “To me, that is totally absurd.”

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 27 percent of children in Arkansas live in families at 100 percent below the federal poverty line. Forty-eight percent of black children in Arkansas live in poor families and 44 percent of Hispanic children live in poor families, as opposed to 18 percent of white children. Thirty-one percent of children under age six in Arkansas live in poverty.

In 2007, Arkansas ranked fourth in the nation in the number of domestic violence cases ending in the murder of a woman by an intimate partner.  Resources for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault of all kinds and by all perpetrators are severely strained by lack of financial resources to meet current needs.

In short, if you are a woman in Arkansas living in poverty or from paycheck to paycheck  and are raped and impregnanted against your will–by your husband, intimate partner, stranger, uncle, father–you are, as they say, SOL.  To put it another way, anti-choicers in Arkansas are apparently perfectly comfortable with forced pregnancy and with washing their hands of violence against women, especially violence against low-income women and women of color.

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