February 20, 2015 — The Arkansas House on Thursday voted 85-3 to give final approval to a bill (SB 53) that would require physicians to administer medication abortion drugs in person, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports (Lauer, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 2/20).
According to the AP/Baxter Bulletin, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has said he supports the measure (AP/Baxter Bulletin, 2/19).
State Sen. Missy Irvin (R) proposed the bill, which would require abortion providers to administer the drugs in person and "make all reasonable efforts" to see a woman who took the drugs within 12 to 18 days for a follow-up. The bill would allow the woman who received the abortion or the man involved in the pregnancy to sue a physician who does not follow the requirements (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/20).
State Rep. Julie Mayberry (R) introduced a similar bill (HB 1076) in the state House (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/4). The state Senate approved Mayberry's bill on Tuesday, but that bill would have to go back to the House for approval because of a Senate amendment (Lauer/Wickline, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 2/18).
Felony Battery Bill Draws Concern Over Criminalizing Pregnancy
Meanwhile, the state House Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to approve a bill (HB 1376) that would change the definition of "person" to allow stronger charges to be brought against individuals accused of harming a fetus.
Both the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Arkansas Right to Life oppose the bill because of concerns about its potential effects on pregnant women with substance use disorders. Although state law already defines a fetus at any stage of development as a "person" in cases of capital murder and negligent homicide, state Rep. Nate Bell (R) said his bill is needed for clarification after a case in the state appeals court involving a woman accused of using illicit drugs while pregnant.
Bettina Brownstein, a cooperating attorney with the Arkansas chapter of the ACLU, said the bill would effectively criminalize drug addiction and could discourage pregnant women from seeking health care.
Arkansas Right to Life Executive Director Rose Mimms added that the measure could cause women to seek abortion to avoid criminal charges for harming a fetus. She said, "That sends a strong message to pregnant women addicted to drugs that we don't want to send" (AP/Baxter Bulletin, 2/19).