Arkansas Legislature leads nation in 2015 anti-abortion laws

After passing the top priority of anti-abortion groups early in the session and with one of the nation's toughest bans already tied up in the courts, Arkansas lawmakers closed out the session by passing more restrictions than any other state so far this year.

Arkansas lawmakers passed six anti-abortion bills — all of which have been signed by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson — along with two resolutions supporting pregnancy resource centers. Arkansas could be eclipsed by other states as the year progresses, but lobbyists are already working on regulations for the next regular session, inspired by other states and motivated by what didn't pass this session.

The state's Legislature passed some of the nation's most restrictive abortion bans in 2013 by banning most abortions 12 and 20 weeks into a woman's pregnancy. A federal judge has struck down the 12-week ban and the state's appeal is still pending.

Proponents say the legislation this year focused on women's health and making abortions safer while opponents have dismissed the laws as thinly veiled attempts to outlaw a legal procedure. The quantity of bills, however, is something the Center for Reproductive Rights and Americans United for Life both agree on: Arkansas has had the most so far this year.

The bevy of bills is aimed at the state's two abortion providers — Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which runs clinics in Little Rock and Fayetteville, and Little Rock Family Planning Services.

The Republican-dominated Legislature didn't enact anything unprecedented, but is still at the forefront on many issues, said Dan McConchie, vice president of the national anti-abortion group. A ban on providing tax dollars to Planned Parenthood regardless of use and toughening parental involvement requirements are some of the strongest restrictions in the nation, he said, and could be emulated elsewhere. Arizona barely edged out Arkansas to become the first state to require doctors to tell women that drug-induced abortions may be reversible, which many doctors say is untrue.

The top priority of anti-abortion activists was to bar doctors from prescribing pregnancy-terminating pills through telemedicine — a practice not offered in the state. Other restrictions to begin this year include stricter information requirements, a 48-hour waiting period between an in-person meeting and the procedure, restrictions on the disposal of fetal tissue and a prohibition on state funding for abortion providers.

A ban on off-label use of the abortion pill and adding restrictions to a state law that requires parental consent will begin on January 1.

"Both the number and the direct impact on families in Arkansas this session was really unprecedented," said Erin Davison-Rippey, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which serves Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma. "When you compile them as a whole, it's absolutely devastating for people seeking health care."

Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, was pleased with the legislative action.

"Now that the tide has turned and we have Republican lawmakers, that's why we're able to see (this many) bills filed in a session," she said.

Mimms said that, in 2017, she would like to see lawmakers examine outlawing a common second-trimester procedure in which forceps, clamps, scissors or similar instruments are used on a live fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces. Such instruments are used in certain dilation and evacuation procedures.