A law requiring aborted fetal tissue collected from girls 14 and younger to be turned over to the state Crime Laboratory has netted only one case in the first year after being put into effect, a state official said.
The law's sponsor, state Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, said she was pleased with the results in the year since Arkansas Act 725 of 2013 went into effect on Sept. 30, 2014.
"I am happy about that one case because we helped that one child. We protected the innocent," Fite said.
The law, which amends the Child Maltreatment Act, not only requires abortion providers to release fetal tissue, but also sets civil penalties for anyone who helps a child 14 years old or younger get an abortion without parental consent.
In addition, the law expands the definition of mandated reporters to include employees and volunteers of a reproductive health care facility. Mandated reporters are people in authority (including teachers, day care providers and doctors) who by law must report child abuse or neglect.
Fite said the law furthers the state's efforts in protecting children from sexual crimes and gives law enforcement more tools to successfully complete investigations and prosecutions.
Arkansas State Crime Laboratory Executive Director Kermit Channell said that in the past year, there have been 10 fetal-tissue cases submitted to the state Crime Lab, but only one can be linked to the new law.
The state has been "getting fetus cases for years," primarily in relation to sexual assault, he added.
The fetal tissue is tested to determine DNA. In the majority of the cases, there has been an individual identified as a rape suspect or sexual partner, making it easier to link the DNA, Channel said.
Channell said he could not disclose any identifying information about the one case.
The law requires a medical provider to contact the law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction where the child resides when a girl 14 years old or younger receives an abortion. Failure to do so could "constitute unprofessional conduct" under the Arkansas Medical Practices Act, according to the law.
The new law did not require any changes in personnel or procedure at the state Crime Lab, Channel said.
"The staff is not separated by how physical evidence is collected. It will go specifically to the DNA section," he said. "There is a learning curve that takes place when an act like this is put into effect, but I have not heard any backlash."
There are two surgical abortion providers in the state -- Little Rock Family Planning Services and Fayetteville Women's Clinic. Both declined to comment.
Angie Remington, spokesman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland -- which covers the Little Rock office -- said the law does not impact them to a great degree because the clinics do not perform surgical abortions. The medication-induced abortions the agency provides do not result in fetal tissue collection at the clinic.
The medication-induced abortion, which is performed at home, involves a two-drug process within the first 63 days of pregnancy. One drug, mifepristone, terminates the pregnancy, and the second drug, misoprostol, induces the expulsion of fetal tissue from the uterus.
Max Snowden, executive director of the Arkansas Commission on Child Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence, said that he is not sure what it says about effectiveness of the law if only one case has been reported in the first year.
"I don't know if that means girls under 14 aren't getting abortions that much or if the providers need more education on the law," Snowden said.
There are consequences outlined for violating the act, but there are no mechanisms in place to ensure providers and law enforcement are complying.
"My hope would be that the law would serve as a deterrent for people who bring these girls in for an abortion," Fite said.
"For the providers, if you don't report it and it's later found out that you didn't follow the law, you can get your license pulled.
"I honestly do not know all the answers. It sounds like we need more education so that everybody knows that this law is in existence and how to follow it."
Snowden said he would like to have seen more provisions in the law to inform and educate the public and abortion providers.
"Regardless, I would be supportive of anything that would help determine and prosecute child abuse," he said. "We need as many mandated reporters as we can have, especially if a child became pregnant because of the abuse."
Channel said the law is a measure that increases the likelihood that rape of a child will be reported.
"With these kinds of cases, forensic science is important, but only one small sliver of the whole picture," he said. "Here you see the worst that people can afflict on people, but the science can help solve a case or it can exonerate an innocent person."
State Desk on 10/05/2015
Print Headline: Law nets 1 case in first year: Tissue required in teen abortion