News Abortion

Arkansas Governor Signs Telemedicine Abortion Ban

Teddy Wilson

Telemedicine abortion care isn't available in Arkansas, but a state representative told local media the law would "stop it before it starts."

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a bill into law Wednesday that bans the use of telemedicine for medication abortions in the state.

Telemedicine abortion care isn’t available in Arkansas, but a state representative told local media the law would “stop it before it starts.”

SB 53, filed by state Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View), was approved by the state house a week after being passed by the senate. Both chambers passed the bill by wide margins.

The bill is the first anti-choice restriction to become law this year of the dozens of bills introduced in state legislatures.

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The new law will require that a pregnant person who is seeking a medication abortion be physically in a room with a physician when the medication is administered.

“It’s crystal clear that these laws are motivated by a desire to keep a woman who has decided to have an abortion from getting one,” Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said in statement after Hutchinson signed the bill.

“We all want women to be safe, but these laws aren’t about improving care for women,” Dalven said. “They’re designed by politicians, not doctors, to cut off access to safe, legal abortion by any means necessary.”

During the January 18 March for Life rally in Little Rock, Hutchinson signaled his support for the legislation. “As governor, I support telemedicine, but this is not the right application. It should be prohibited,” he said during the rally.

The governor’s office did not release a statement or announce the signing of the bill on social media.

Arkansas is the 17th state to ban telemedicine abortion care. It has been banned now across the South, including in Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Abortion providers use telemedicine to offer women who do not live near a reproductive health provider, many of them in rural areas, with access to abortion care. At a local health clinic, where the medication is dispensed, a patient will sit with a nurse while communicating with her doctor via video conferencing tools.

Access to abortion care is highly restricted in Arkansas, and women seeking to terminate a pregnancy must comply with a mandatory waiting period and forced counseling. There are only three clinics that provide abortion care in the state: one in Fayetteville and two in Little Rock.

The population of the state is dispersed among many small towns and rural areas. Little Rock and Fayetteville, the first and third most populous cities, respectively, are home to just 276,000 of the state’s nearly three million residents, according to U.S. Census figures.

With the three clinics that provide abortion care located in just two of the state’s 75 counties, that leaves 97 percent of Arkansas counties without an abortion clinic. Seventy-eight percent of Arkansas women lived in these counties, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Telemedicine abortion care is not available in the state, but state Rep. Julie Mayberry (R-East End) said that she wanted to prevent the service from ever being an option. “We want to make sure that we stop it before it starts. It’s so much easier to prevent bad medicine than it is to stop it after it’s started,” Mayberry said, as reported by Arkansas Public Radio.

Research has shown that telemedicine abortion is safe and effective. Ibis Reproductive Health has concluded that “restricting telemedicine for medication abortion is not evidence based, and limits women’s access to high-quality abortion care, particularly in rural areas.”

During the senate floor debate, Mayberry said medication abortions can have side effects, including bleeding and more serious problems. Mayberry claims that while researching the bill, she found statistics that said 5 percent of women who have medication abortions need to have surgical abortions later because the medication was ineffective, according to reporting by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Between 0.5 percent and 2 percent will require suction aspiration because of heavy or prolonged bleeding, according to the National Abortion Federation. Medication abortion is “safe, as severe complications are extremely rare,” the Guttmacher Institute has found. The use of medication to terminate a pregnancy has a 92 to 95 percent success rate, which is comparable to surgical abortion.

The new law, officially titled Act 139, will become effective 90 days after the state legislature adjourns.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”

News Politics

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”