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Arkansas Legislature Advances Bills That Restrict Abortion Access

Arkansas Senate

Members of the Arkansas Senate advanced two bills Monday that would restrict abortion access in the state.

A bill that would ban nearly all abortions in Arkansas is on its way to the House after passing the Arkansas Senate on Monday.

Senate Bill 6 would ban all abortions in the state. According to the legislation, abortions would be allowed to "save the life or preserve the health of the unborn child." The bill also allows for abortions to remove ectopic pregnancies and to remove a dead fetus caused by a "spontaneous abortion." There are no exceptions for instances of rape or incest.

The Senate voted 27-7 to advance the bill to the House, with one senator voting present. Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, is the bill’s sponsor and presented it to the Senate floor.

"SB6 has been filed so that Arkansas may reassert our right under the 10th amendment to protect the lives of innocent, unborn children who deserve the equal protection that we all have under the law according to the 14th amendment," Rapert said.

Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville spoke against the bill, saying that even if the bill does become law and the courts do not quickly strike it down, abortions are still going to happen.  

"As has been noted here, women with resources will still find a way. But most women without those resources, vulnerable women, will take measures to self-manage the end of their pregnancy. It will happen. This bill will not ban abortion. It cannot ban abortion. It still will happen," Leding said.

Leding said it "was just wrong" for the Senate, consisting of mostly men, to insert themselves into the personal decision of whether or not to bring a life into the world by passing legislation like Senate Bill 6.

An amendment filed by Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette would have included instances of rape or incest as exceptions to the ban.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, asked Rapert to pull down the bill and to include the amendment with those additional exceptions.

"To disenfranchise people that I care about, people that I love, people that were raped and people that were victims of incest. I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that and I don’t think that we should want to do that," Irvin said.

Rapert spoke on his decision to not include the amendment.

"We once had to accept those rape and incest exceptions and you know why? It’s because people would come and force it. And some of the same arguments I heard today are the same arguments that Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have used time and time again to use 1% of all abortions to say we should justify 100% of those abortions," Rapert said.

Ultimately, Irvin was one of the 27 senators to vote for the legislation. Hendren voted present. The bill now heads to the House.

Later Monday, the Arkansas Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee approved a bill requiring healthcare providers to display ultrasound images of a fetus to a patient seeking an abortion. Committee members unanimously approved Senate Bill 85by Republican Cecile Bledsoe of Rogers in a meeting Monday.

Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right To Life, said the bill seeks to discourage women from obtaining an abortion even after initially choosing to do so. 

"The burden wouldn't be on her to ask to see [the ultrasound], it would be there for her to see if she wanted to. She could avert her eyes if she chose not to. But it would also give her critical information about the development of the unborn child," Mimms said. 

Abortion providers are already required under Arkansas law to perform an ultrasound before the procedure, though this proposed legislation would make it mandatory to display the images to the patient seeking an abortion. Ali Taylor, president of the Arkansas Abortion Support Network, was one of three members of the public who spoke against the bill during the committee meeting.

"It seems that there is no government regulation that is too big when it comes to controlling pregnant women. This bill does nothing to improve the health or safety of patients. Its sole purpose is to shame pregnant people as if a woman can't possibly know what she's doing without the state inserting itself into the exam room," Taylor said.

The bill originally included provisions allowing patients to decline viewing the images, as well as for providers who do not comply with the bill’s stipulations to face possible disciplinary action. It now heads to the House Public Health Committee for a vote.

Daniel Breen is News Director for Little Rock Public Radio.
Sarah Kellogg was a Politics and Government reporter for KUAR from November 2018- August 2021.
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