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State panel advances abortion bill

Proposed legislation would require women to call hotline by Michael R. Wickline | February 4, 2021 at 4:01 a.m.
FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this file photo.

A bill that would require women to call a hotline before receiving an abortion zipped through the Arkansas Senate Public Heath, Welfare and Labor Committee on Wednesday.

In a voice vote with no dissenters, the committee recommended approval of House Bill 1195 by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, over the opposition of a co-founder of the Arkansas Abortion Support Network.

Under Dotson's proposed "Every Mom Matters Act," the hotline would inform women of services they can receive if they remain pregnant.

Dotson said his bill is aimed at reducing abortions by making sure that every woman seeking abortion in Arkansas knows about the public and private resources available to support her pregnancy and parenting, if she decides against having an abortion.

He said the bill would connect a pregnant woman with someone who would explain and offer to directly connect her to support services. The legislation also aims to support follow-up programming through a child's second birthday.

[RELATED: See complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature at arkansasonline.com/legislature]

"All services are provided through a brief phone call to a toll-free number," Dotson said.

Dotson estimated the cost of implementing of the program between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, based on figures from similar programs in other states. However, Arkansas Department of Health officials told a legislative committee last week that it would cost about $4-5 million to develop and fund the hotline and connection to services.

The bill, which passed the House earlier this week, does not include any funding for the Health Department to create the hotline, nor does it fund the creation or expansion of any services for pregnant women or mothers.

"Data shows that if women are fully informed one third will decide to keep their babies," and when the bill is fully implemented by Jan. 1, 2023, " that would be roughly 1,000 babies saved annually, plus ongoing support for the children's mothers," he said.

The legislation passed the House earlier this week.

There were 2,963 abortions performed in the state in 2019, according to statistics from the Health Department

Karen Musick, a co-founder of the Arkansas Abortion Support Network, said the network assists any Arkansas woman in need of abortion services to access their constitutional right to an abortion, and has financially helped hundreds of women.

"One of the brutal realities that I think that you need to realize is that mommas already have info," Musick said. "Mommas have had info for a long time. There is no new services being established here.

"You are doing nothing other than forcing a woman who wants an abortion to make a call to non-medical professionals to share their advice. These women know the services that are out there. They know the decisions that are going to affect the rest of their lives."

But Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, who is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 1195, said that "it is amazing how requiring a five-minute phone call for a young lady to be able to get information creates so much fear."

"And I think it is because sometimes, [for] the industry, success means more abortions," he said.

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