A recently passed law restricting use of a common abortion procedure has generated widespread attention over the belief the state now allows family members to "veto" abortions.
The act's sponsor calls such reports "fake news."
In response to the attention, National Right to Life, the anti-abortion group whose model language was used for the Arkansas law, Act 45, Monday issued a memo to its membership saying the law had been inaccurately described in national and foreign media reports.
Act 45, signed into law by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson last month, was the first anti-abortion legislation to be enacted in Arkansas during this legislative session. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has promised to sue the state over the law.
The law, sponsored by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, restricts use of the dilation and evacuation procedure, which uses medical tools to remove the fetus from the womb. The procedure was the only one Arkansas women used for 638 second-trimester abortions in 2015, according to the state Department of Health. The law makes it a felony to use the procedure for any abortion except for one to protect the health of the mother.
If a court does not take action against the law, it would take effect 90 days after the session ends.
As the legislation moved through the General Assembly, debate focused on how it would affect access to abortions for women beyond the 12th week of pregnancy. In a statement, Planned Parenthood called the law "an attempt to ban safe, legal abortion."
Mayberry, the president of Arkansas Right to Life, asserted that his law would not stop abortions from taking place. The other method used for aborting second-trimester pregnancies is to induce labor.
On Feb. 1, an online news site, The Daily Beast, had an article about the law's civil penalties, which allow the mother or her spouse, guardian or health care provider to sue an abortion provider either to block it from carrying out the procedure, or for having performed it. The Daily Beast's headline: "New law lets dads veto abortions."
Within days, other stories about the law appeared on other websites, such as The Huffington Post and the online newspaper The Independent. Some claimed that injunctions could be sought in cases of incest or spousal rape to prevent an abortion.
Those concerns are ill-informed and have been blown out of proportion through social media, Mayberry said.
"A few folks have misunderstood it, and then some others have purposely provided some false information," Mayberry said.
While saying the injunction could be sought in instances of spousal rape, Mayberry said the clause would only apply against a provider who has previously been caught performing the illegal procedure, and is "pretty standard language" used to stop violators of the law.
Physicians who perform the procedure also are open to lawsuits for civil damages, according to the act. Damages cannot be awarded to someone whose "criminal conduct" resulted in the pregnancy, according to the act.
While similar language exists in other abortion laws in Arkansas -- including the 2013 Mayberry-sponsored law banning abortions starting at 20 weeks -- online publications have cast the law as setting a precedent for family members to intervene in a woman's right to have an abortion.
One item tweeted by Chelsea Clinton, former President Bill Clinton's daughter, was retweeted 13,000 times. She called the law "Unconscionable, if also unreal."
The headline the former first daughter shared with her followers was inaccurate, Mayberry said in his own tweet.
The headline said the law "will let rapists sue victims who want an abortion." The act states a woman who "receives or attempted to receive a dismemberment abortion" cannot be held liable.
While Internet buzz has centered on the law's civil penalties, ACLU of Arkansas lawyer Holly Dickson said those provisions hinge on the law itself taking effect, which the group's lawsuit will try to prevent.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considers the dilation and evacuation procedure the safest method for abortions in the second trimester. Act 45 only allows the procedure to be used to prevent serious medical risk to the mother, and does not include exceptions for rape and incest.
While other abortion techniques are available, Dickson said the law limits a woman's access to pre-viability abortions in an unconstitutional way. The language allowing injunctions to stop abortions is not unique, she said.
"We have similar language in other bills here in Arkansas and in other states," Dickson said, referring to the civil penalties. "But for whatever reason that provision of this bill really attracted a lot of attention."
Courts in four of six states that have "dismemberment abortion" bans have blocked the laws from going into effect. Mayberry has said he is confident his law is written in such a way that it will overcome a court challenge.
A spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the governor stands by his decision to sign the bill into law.
Metro on 02/09/2017
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