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Arkansas to Increase ‘Conscience’ Protections, Add Telemed Ban

Robin Marty

If the Arkansas legislature had a motto for its 2013 session, it would probably be "Want to have sex? Make babies."

If the Arkansas legislature had a motto for its 2013 session, it would probably be “Want to have sex? Make babies.”

First, state Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) introduced a ban on abortions at the point in which a heartbeat can be detected. Although his bill was modified to be somewhat more lenient, it still passed as the most restrictive ban in the nation. Rapert then followed up with a legislative bill to defund Planned Parenthood, claiming every dollar provided is a dollar spent subsidizing abortion. (Arkansas has only two Planned Parenthood clinics in the state, both of which offer pregnancy terminations.)

But Rapert and state Rep. Andy Mayberry (R-Hensley), the author of the also unconstitutional 20-week ban that passed earlier this session, aren’t the only legislators trying to restrict abortion. State Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) just introduced SB 913, a bill banning telemed abortions in the state. It would require that doctors to provide RU-486 in the presence of the person terminating the pregnancy and to “make all reasonable efforts to ensure that the patient returns twelve (12) to eighteen (18) days after the administration or use of mifepristone or any drug or chemical for a follow-up visit so that the physician can confirm that the pregnancy has been terminated and can assess the patient’s medical condition.” These “reasonable efforts” must be carefully documented with dates and ways that the provider attempted follow up, because the majority of the bill deals with setting the protocol for suing doctors if those standards aren’t adhered to completely.

Irvin proposed a similar bill in 2011, but it never made it out of panel. Unlike this year’s bill, that version was a Food and Drug Administration protocol copy cat bill built from Americans United for Life model legislation. Who else introduced failed bills on AUL’s behalf during prior sessions? Rapert.

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Maintaining access to birth control should be a high priority in a state that already had few clinics and many onerous abortion restrictions even before Rapert, Irvin, and Mayberry got involved. And yet the Arkansas legislature’s is now focused on expanding the ability of medical practitioners to refuse contraception and other reproductive health-care options.

HB 1899, the “Healthcare Freedom of Conscience Act,” will protect the “moral conscience” of medical practitioners and institutions (because if corporations are people, institutions have consciences), from being forced to participate in immoral acts involving “artificial birth control, artificial insemination, assisted reproduction, human embryonic stem cell research, and sterilization.” Doctors can refuse treatment, hospitals can refuse admittance, and pharmacists can refuse to fill any prescriptions they choose. Am institution that employs a religious objector is expected to work around his or her moral beliefs: “a healthcare institution and an employer of healthcare professionals shall reasonably accommodate the conscience rights of a healthcare professional unless the healthcare institution or employer can demonstrate that the accommodation constitutes an undue hardship.” In other words, the onus is on the employer, not the employee, to prove that the burden is too difficult to work around.

The state of Arkansas already has a law allowing pharmacists to turn down prescriptions, and the medical system already has a conscience clause in effect for providers when it comes to abortion and other reproductive procedures, according to the Arkansas Times blog. So what is the point of this new bill? Writer Leslie Newall Peacock says it’s about political grandstanding, and giving politicians more chances to show their disdain for women’s reproductive autonomy. “It lets [Rep. David] Meeks not get out-woman-hated by his fellows in our esteemed General Assembly,” writes Newall Peacock. “If Rapert and Mayberry et al are going to front legislation to remove a woman’s right to choose and give embryos all the powers that people have, well, by golly, he’s going to get in on the hate-fest. He’s only co-sponsor of the abortion bills. He’s leading the charge on this meaningless legislation.”

So where is the outrage from all of the women who are being tread upon by these bills? They are completely silent, according to the mainstream press. The New York Times recently published an article about the new, most restrictive abortion ban in the country and asked three residents of Rapert’s district whether or not they support the bill; two did, one didn’t. But not a single person in the article would be effected by the ban—the reporter didn’t ask a single woman of reproductive age for her opinion.

Opponents of the bill may not be getting their voices heard in the national media, but they are ready to make them heard at the Arkansas Capitol. A rally against extreme anti-women legislation has been scheduled for March 23 on the steps of the state Capitol, and so far well over 800 people have said they are planning to attend.

The legislature may be on a rampage to take away all reproductive autonomy, but the women of Arkansas and their allies aren’t going to let it happen without a fight.

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