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Abortion ban exception fails in Arkansas House committee

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Arkansas Legislature
(From L to R) Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, presents HB1301 to the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee alongside genetic counselor Shannon Barringer and OB-GYN Dr. Luann Racher.

An effort to roll back Arkansas’ near-total ban on abortion failed in the state legislature Tuesday.

Lawmakers on the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee rejected House Bill 1301, which would allow for abortions in cases of fetal abnormalities incompatible with life.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Nicole Clowney of Fayetteville, said it would help minimize the trauma felt by women who, under current Arkansas law, must carry a fetus to term despite any diagnoses during pregnancy.

“She’ll have to go to the grocery store, she’ll have to have strangers rub her belly, ask her how she’s feeling, ask her if the nursery’s done and if she’s chosen a name. She’ll have to endure full-term labor and childbirth, potentially major surgery… and then, after all of that and without any chance that the outcome could have been any different, she will leave the hospital with no baby,” Clowney said.

Clowney said Arkansas’ abortion laws also ban early delivery in these cases, potentially robbing parents of the chance to see and hold their child alive, if only briefly.

Cherisse Dean with the conservative advocacy group the Family Council spoke against the bill, saying it doesn’t specifically define which medical conditions would be applicable.

“It does not say what it is and what it is not, and so that leaves it very unclear for a federal judge to interpret this language,” Dean said. “Unborn children should not be aborted because a doctor thinks that they may have a fetal abnormality.”

Rep. Ryan Rose, R-Van Buren, asked about an experimental procedure which used saline injections as a substitution for amniotic fluid, allowing babies born without kidneys to live long enough to receive a transplant. Shannon Barringer, a genetic counselor with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said that procedure is not available in Arkansas and has, for the most part, been unsuccessful.

“There may be three or four cases reported, but the studies that came off from the original Johns Hopkins trial are closed because they were not working in the vast majority of cases,” Barringer said. “We can argue about one or two or three cases, but I know what my medical literature says. And the vast majority of those babies die, hooked up on dialysis, because they can’t get a transplant.”

The bill failed on a voice vote after roughly one-and-a-half hours of testimony. Arkansas’ near-total abortion ban went into effect in the wake of the Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade last June.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.