A pair of proposed laws that would add restrictions on abortions and clinics zipped through a House committee Thursday without opposition from any lawmakers.
The sponsors of House Bills 1428 and 1434 said their proposals would not affect a large number of abortions performed in the state and were narrowly written to overcome constitutional challenges. One bill would add regulations for clinics to meet and, the other would ban abortions based on the sex of the fetus.
Abortion-rights proponents described the measures as political moves to further limit women's access to the procedure in Arkansas, and they declared the changes would be found unconstitutional if challenged in court.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which opposes both bills, already had promised a lawsuit against the state's recently signed law that would make it a felony to use the most common medical procedure used to end second-trimester pregnancies. The exception in that law is to protect the health of the woman.
The bills approved by the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday now move to the House floor.
HB1428, by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, would create more rules for clinics to adhere to and require the Department of Health to immediately suspend a clinic's license if the agency discovered a violation.
A representative of Planned Parenthood said Arkansas' three clinics already follow the laws and regulations in place and that Lundstrum's bill is meant to imperil their existence. Lundstrum said the bill "cleans up antiquated language," and that Planned Parenthood should not have any trouble if it follows the law.
Language in the bill would require abortions be performed by a licensed physician, though Ashley Wright, the public policy manager for P̶l̶a̶n̶n̶e̶d̶ ̶P̶a̶r̶e̶n̶t̶h̶o̶o̶d̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶H̶e̶a̶r̶t̶l̶a̶n̶d̶ Planned Parenthood, Great Plains,* said that is already the case. The bill also moves clinics from periodic inspections to annual ones, and requires inspections to include medical records as well as signatures for informed consent and parental consent. The bill also would require the state to collect an annual $500 fee; the fee is now optional.
Arkansas requires parental consent for abortions for minors unless a waiver is obtained from a judge.
The second piece of legislation, HB1434, by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, proposes to ban abortions in which the motive is sex selection.
Collins said such restrictions are in place in China and India, where sex-selection practices are more common, and in Arkansas it is "almost impossible to be a massive issue."
If the woman seeking an abortion knows the sex of the fetus, Collins' bill would require the abortion provider to inform her that abortions on the basis of sex selection are illegal and then request all the medical records related to the woman's pregnancy history. The physician cannot perform the abortion until "reasonable time and effort is spent to obtain the medical records."
The bill does not say what doctors should do with those records, but the bill would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion if they know a woman is seeking it "solely on the basis of sex." Collins said doctors would evaluate the records to help them make a determination.
Wright said Collins' law would make doctors work as "investigators" and "delay care for an unspecified amount of time."
Planned Parenthood does not inquire about a woman's motivations before receiving an abortion, Wright said.
There were 3,771 abortions performed in Arkansas in 2015, according to the Department of Health. The department publishes information about abortions by race, but not by sex. Arkansas prohibits abortions past the 19th week of pregnancy.
Both bills were approved in committee on a voice vote without anyone audibly saying "nay." One member of the public spoke in favor of HB1428.
Rita Sklar, the executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, suggested her group would file a lawsuit if either bill was signed into law. Her group's promises to take anti-abortion legislation to court have largely fallen on deaf ears in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Sklar said she was not surprised by Thursday's outcome.
"What's shocking to me is the willingness to waste taxpayer funding," Sklar said. "What's more, I'm just surprised the taxpayers put up with it."
Both pieces of legislation can be taken up by the full House early next week.
The calendar of public events of the 91st General Assembly for today, the 33rd day of the 2017 regular session.
9 a.m. House Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative & Military Affairs Committee, Room 130.
9 a.m. House City, County and Local Affairs Committee, Room B, Multi-Agency Complex.
9 a.m. House Insurance and Commerce Committee, Room 149.
9 a.m. House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, Room 151.
10 a.m. House convenes.
Senate does not meet.
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*CORRECTION: Ashley Wright, who spoke Thursday against an abortion bill that was being considered in the Arkansas House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, is the public policy manager for Planned Parenthood, Great Plains. The group was misidentified in a previous version of this article.
Print Headline: Two bills affecting abortion advance