Arkansas committee OKs restrictions on 2nd trimester abortions

Arkansas Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, presents a bill Thursday morning before the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor.
Arkansas Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, presents a bill Thursday morning before the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor.

An Arkansas legislative committee has voted to outlaw an abortion procedure that opponents call "savage" and "barbaric" while others deem it the safest way to end a pregnancy in the second trimester.

The bill filed by state Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, would create the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion act. The legislation would ban abortion by dilation and evacuation and make it illegal for doctors to use surgical instruments to "dismember" a fetus within the mother's body.

The surgical procedure is used to end pregnancies after 16 weeks, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Abortion-rights advocates have said the bill would bar the most commonly used procedure for women in their second trimester, beginning at 13 weeks, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Introducing himself as “unabashedly pro-life,” Mayberry defended the legislation in front of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday morning.

The lawmaker, accompanied by Dr. Richard Wyatt, a gynecologist from Little Rock, said he would love someday to present the General Assembly with a proposal that banned abortion outright.

But this bill is not that, Mayberry said. Rather, it prohibits a procedure he described as “barbaric and cruel and savage” that should not be embraced by a “civilized society.”

Wyatt, speaking in support of the bill, said the procedure causes a physician to “pull out the baby’s pieces.”

Victoria Leigh, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who spoke against the legislation, maintained that the depiction of dilation and evacuation abortions in the bill were at odds with the facts of the procedure.

Leigh asked lawmakers to vote against the bill for two reasons. First, she said, it outlaws the safest way for a woman to obtain an abortion in her second trimester. Without this practice, women would have to be hospitalized and undergo an “incredibly invasive” and riskier option, she said.

Second, Leigh said, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld a woman’s right to choose, and this law would be “blatantly, facially unconstitutional.” If passed, a lawsuit from the ACLU would be guaranteed, she added.

Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Springdale, later asked Lee: “Do you ever represent the civil liberties of the baby that’s being dismembered?”

Leigh responded by saying the inflammatory nature of the question matched the inflammatory language in the bill.

The attorney also said the law would make doctors felons if they break the law and perform the procedure. Physicians could pay a fine of up to $10,000 and serve a sentence of up to six months, the Democrat-Gazette previously reported.

Under the bill’s current form, women would only be allowed to receive the procedure if their doctor deemed it necessary to prevent a serious health risk. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

Mayberry closed by saying he agreed that this medical procedure is the most common but disagreed that it’s the safest option. He said passing the legislation would not stop “a single abortion” — just prevent a medical procedure from taking place.

Several lawmakers voted to back the bill during the debate, and it was advanced to the full House.

Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Dr. Richard Wyatt's name.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.