This session the ACLU of Arkansas and it's coalition members, especially Planned Parenthood, and Arkansas NOW, successfully held the tide against 14 measures that threatened reproductive freedom and would have negatively impacted women's health.
The legislature saw nine bills restricting access to abortion, three bills requiring physicians to report their pregnant patients, a bill that would have redefined "unborn child" as an offspring from conception to birth (and allow a pregnant woman to use deadly force to protect her fetus), and a bill that would have allowed any health care provider to refuse to provide medical care for nearly any reason. Almost all these bills were part of a national strategy by anti-choice groups to limit access to abortion and were introduced in several of those states. Many of those bills passed.
In defeating nearly all of these measures, the General Assembly sent a strong message to anti-choice legislators intent on waging a war on women: what's bad for women is bad for Arkansas.
Attack on Abortion
Early in the session, anti-choice legislators introduced a bill that would ban insurance companies from offering plans that cover abortion inside the state insurance exchanges that will be set up as part of the federal health care reform package. Sponsors of the bill doggedly attempted to mislead the public and other legislators by claiming the bill would prevent public funding for abortion, when in fact public funding already cannot be used to fund abortions under state and federal law, and the health exchanges wont change that. In truth, the bill would have only impacted people's private premium payments. After the bill was amended to include exceptions for rape, incest, and the health, the sponsors decided a measure with these protections was not worth pursuing. They tabled the bill and it remained there for the duration of the session.
Two measures were introduced in the Senate under the guise of protecting women's health, but which in fact were harmful to women's health.
The first bill would have required physicians to follow an outdated regimen for administering medication abortions. Under this bill, women would have to take three times more medication, pay three times as much for the medication, and experience more side effects for no medical reason whatsoever.
The second bill would have required all abortion clinics to meet requirements for ambulatory surgical centers, even though those regulations have nothing to do with the procedures they perform. This TRAP (Targeted Regulation Of Abortion Providers) law was designed to drive clinics out of business by forcing them to make expensive modifications to their facilities for no reason.
Both bills were exposed as bad policy and were defeated in the House.
Another bill, which required all medical practices that performed more than 10 abortions per month to be licensed and inspected by the Department of Health passed and was signed by the Governor. These facilities are already highly regulated.
In addition to these abortion bills, anti-choice legislators advanced a bill that banned abortion at 20 weeks and then another than could have banned it as early as 6 weeks; a bill that would have banned abortions for severe fetal anomalies from occurring at state hospitals; a bill that created criminal penalties for physicians who failed to conform to biased counseling requirements; and a second attempt to ban insurance coverage for abortion. All of these measures were successfully defeated.
Reporting of pregnant women
Pregnant women's medical privacy is often under attack, and this session was no different. One bill would have required that all birthing mothers be checked against the child maltreatment registry. Another would have required physicians who knew their pregnant patients were using alcohol under age to turn them in to the police.
A third measure sought to require physicians to report suspicions of battery amongst their pregnant patients to the police. Each of these measures would have violated these patient's medical privacy, violated their rights to equal protection, and isolated them from medical care that is so critical to their health during pregnancy. Moreover, this last measure could have endangered women's lives, by requiring reporting even against the woman's wishes, when she had nowhere to go but home to the batterer.
The ACLU of Arkansas worked to ensure than none of these measures were passed, and we were successful in all but one, which should not have significant impact.
The details on these bills is below.
THE DIRTY DETAILS
SB113 Health Exchange Ban #1
This bill would have banned insurance companies from covering abortion in plans offered in the state health insurance exchange to be set up as part of federal health care reform. The bill was amended with language that created exceptions for rape, incest, and hospital abortions. Supporters of the bill tabled it fearing the amendment language would have made it incompatible with Arkansas' state constitution. A subsequent opinion from the Attorney General's office assured the sponsor it would not be unconstitutional with the amendment. The bill remained on the table for the duration of the session.
HB1855 Abortion Facilities Licensing Bill
This bill would have required any clinic that performs more than 10 abortions a month to be licensed and inspected by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). The bill becomes effective in 2012, after ADH has time to develop regulations suitable for facilities that offer medication abortion. The bill was passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor.
HB1872 Health Exchange Ban #2
This bill's effects would have been identical to the first exchange ban. The measure was never pursued by the sponsor and died in the House Public Health Committee never having been considered.
HB1887 20-/Week Ban
This bill would have banned abortion at twenty weeks, created onerous reporting requirements for all abortion clinics, created criminal penalties for physicians, and allowed parties other than the female patient to sue a physician who violated the law. Beth Walker, Deputy Attorney General testified against the bill, arguing that it would advance a new standard to define whether an abortion is legal that is incompatible with the current legal standard. The bill failed in the House Public Health Committee.
SB951 Criminalizing Physicians
This bill created criminal penalties for violating Arkansas' existing biased counseling law, which requires physicians to provide women with state-produced materials on abortion as part of their informed consent procedures. The sponsor didn't pursue the measure and the bill died in the Senate Public Health Committee.
HB1979 State Facilities Ban
This bill would have banned public facilities from performing abortions except in cases of emergency and life endangerment. The bill targeted UAMS's ANGELS program which focuses on high risk pregnancy and will perform abortions for pregnant women with severe fetal anomalies. The sponsor did extensive research at UAMS and spoke with Curtis Lowery, the only provider in a state hospital who performs abortions. UAMS testified on the fact that they performed abortions in cases of severe fetal anomaly. The bill failed on a voice vote.
SB840 Restrictions For Abortion-Inducing Drugs
This bill banned off-label use of abortion inducing drugs. The bill's sponsor purported that the bill attempted to protect the "health and safety" of women, but in fact the bill aimed to restrict access to medication abortion by making it three times more expensive with no decreased risk of complications of side effects. The bill failed on a voice vote.
SB843 Heartbeat Bill
The initial version of this bill required abortion providers to test for a fetal heartbeat 24 hours prior to the abortion and banned abortion if one was detected. The bill was later amended to remove the ban and to include health exception. There were no exceptions for rape or incest, and in committee the sponsor testified that that didn't matter. The bill failed in the House Public Health Committee on a voice vote and then again on a roll call vote.
SB845 Ambulatory Surgical Center Bill
This bill would have required all abortion facilities to drastically modify their facilities by requiring all abortion providers to have ambulatory surgical facilities. The bill initially failed in the Senate Public Health Committee but then passed. In the House Public Health Committee, members questioned whether these issues could be taken up in the regulations and whether legislation was necessary. A member called for immediate consideration, so the sponsor was not able to close for his bill, and it failed 10-9 on a roll call.
Reporting of Pregnant Women
HB1116 Reporting Of Pregnant Women
This bill would have required all birthing women to be checked against the child maltreatment registry. The sponsor introduced the bill on behalf of a constituent and did not pursue it.
SB271 Reporting Of Battered Pregnant Women
This bill created a mandatory reporting requirement for health care providers that provided first aid to pregnant women they believed were battered. Sounds good, but ACLU staff approached the sponsor about privacy and equal protection issues, and the sponsor responded by replacing the bill with a version that allowed (rather than mandated) reporting, only in certain circumstances, and expanded it to all adults. That version was signed by the Governor and the original version targeting pregnant women was never pursued.
SB705 Reporting Of Pregnant Women Who Use Alcohol
The bill created a mandatory reporting requirement for health care providers treating pregnant women under 21 who were using alcohol. The bill grew out of a task force on substance abuse. An ACLU consultant contacted sponsor about the impact of the bill on health/prenatal care, as well as how it would hinder physicians from referring pregnant women to state-sponsored rehab programs. Sponsor withdrew several weeks later.
Fetal Personhood, Separating the Fetus from the Woman: Goal to Create Fetal Rights that can be Asserted over the Woman
SB2159 - Pregnant Women Commando Bill (not the official title!)
This bill allowed a woman to use lethal force to protect her fetus and defined pregnancy has beginning at conception. Pregnancy is not defined by the law and the medical community generally defines it as beginning at the implantation of a fertilized egg. The bill died in the House Public Health committee.
Reproductive Health, Other
HB1983 Religious Refusals
The first iteration of this bill was extremely broad, allowing health care providers and payers, institutions, education programs, etc. to opt out of providing any service at any time for any religious reason. It was amended by the Hospital Association to exclude contraception and to only allow opt-out in cases where 1) the provider had notified his/her institution in advance, 2) easy referrals could be made, and, 3) there was no impact on patient health. Committee members questioned the sponsor as to why physicians could not negotiate these issues with their employers or groups on their own, and on how this might impact small communities with limited persons with relevant expertise. The bill failed on a voice vote.