Arkansas lawmaker pushes ahead with plans to introduce Texas-style abortion bill
As an Arkansas lawmaker remains adamant about introducing abortion legislation similar to a Texas law that is the most restrictive in the nation, Planned Parenthood says it will resume offering medication abortions at its clinic in Rogers.
State Sen. Jason Rapert, a Republican of Conway, said he has a meeting scheduled next week with Gov. Asa Hutchinson to discuss a special session the governor wants to call for the legislature to consider a tax cut package. The session was initially planned to begin on Oct. 25, but Hutchinson said he would wait because of concerns about unrelated issues being introduced.
“We’ll have to see what he thinks now,” Rapert said in an interview with KUAR News. “He cited the bill that I’m planning to run when he decided to postpone here a few weeks ago and wanted to see what the Supreme Court might do. Well, the Supreme Court has heard the arguments related to the Texas civil cause of action and still not done anything to stop Texas. And so at this point, we’re full steam ahead.”
The Texas law bans abortions six weeks into a pregnancy, a point when many women still haven’t realized they're pregnant. It also allows anyone to sue another person who performs, aids or intends to aid an abortion being carried out.
“I am working towards a day when we will see every abortion clinic, Planned Parenthood, the Little Rock Family Planning clinic, all of them completely shut down in our state. Life is precious and it should be protected,” Rapert said.
Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates clinics in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas, held a virtual press conference on Wednesday to address what its leaders say is confusion among the public caused by new abortion laws. CEO Emily Wales spoke about the consequences if Arkansas were to pass a law similar to the one in Texas.
“The impact on Arkansas’ already high maternal mortality and morbidity rates would be dire. But as we do everything we can to fight these unconstitutional bans, we want to be clear, Planned Parenthood in Arkansas remains open,” Wales said.
Planned Parenthood has seen a small increase in patients from out-of-state due to abortion access being limited in the region, Wales said. The facility in Little Rock has had patients from Missouri, Tennessee and other neighboring states, but she said most are residents of Arkansas.
“I think the real impact we’ve seen from what’s happening in Texas is we’ve seen a regional chilling effect,” Wales said. “When you have a law as draconian and really intended to induce fear as the one we’ve seen from Texas, those ripple effects happen across the region.”
Dr. Janet Cathey, a physician for Planned Parenthood certified in obstetrics and gynecology, said restrictions passed by the Arkansas General Assembly in recent years have already made getting an abortion extremely burdensome for women. The biggest challenge, she said, is the state-mandated 72-hour waiting period between an ultrasound and receiving medication for an abortion that requires patients to have to schedule time off from work and arrange for childcare and transportation for three appointments.
“This is the most challenging time I’ve been in for patients to access healthcare. For financial reasons, for social reasons, for political reasons, the system is difficult to navigate,” Cathey said. “I want to reassure our patients, we are here to help them navigate a complicated system.”
The two Planned Parenthood officials said most of the services they provide are not abortion-related such as cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, gynecological exams, gender therapy treatments and counseling on birth control. However, the officials said a clinic that opened in September in Rogers is preparing to begin offering medication abortions, which are available until 10 weeks from the last menstrual period, according to current state laws.
Sen. Rapert said the restrictions he has introduced that were eventually passed in recent years have furthered his goal of making abortions more difficult to obtain. Now he wants to make them illegal.
“We’ve been discussing this now for a few weeks, myself and other prolife leaders in the state have decided that what we would just as soon take is the complete abolition of abortion,” Rapert said.
In addition to an abortion-related bill, Rapert said the next time the legislature is convened he will also introduce legislation providing a tax credit to full-time law enforcement officers.