A day after thousands gathered for an abortion protest at the state Capitol, House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Monday to restrict a procedure used to end hundreds of pregnancies a year in Arkansas.
There was no debate on the floor after state Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, presented House Bill 1032 to restrict dilation and evacuation abortions, and the legislation was passed 78-10. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
The procedure that would be banned by the bill is the most commonly used method of abortion for women in their second trimester, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Mayberry's bill would allow the procedure to prevent a serious health risk to the mother. It does not include exemptions for rape or incest.
Echoing the language of his bill, Mayberry called the procedure "dismemberment abortion" and said it was a "gruesome, barbaric procedure. It is one that no civilized society should embrace."
Mayberry also said his legislation would not prevent any abortions from taking place, though opponents say the law would make it more difficult for women to obtain abortions past 12 weeks.
According to Health Department statistics, dilation and evacuation was the only procedure used for the 638 abortions performed in the 12th week of pregnancy or later in 2015. The state bans abortions past the 19th week of pregnancy.
Mayberry was the only one of the 100 House members to speak for or against the bill, and only Democrats voted against it. In addition, 10 Democrats who were present in the chamber Monday voted present or did not cast a vote.
Debate over the bill was limited to five minutes per side when it was brought up last week in the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, when representatives from both the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood had signed up to speak against it.
Because of the time restriction, the Planned Parenthood representative was unable to speak in committee. A representative from Arkansas Right to Life also declined to speak in favor of the bill after Mayberry presented it.
"It was well vetted in committee, there was a lot of discussion in committee about it," Mayberry said Monday when asked about the lack of debate.
Arkansas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group led by Mayberry, helped organize a rally at the state Capitol Sunday on the 44th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. Capitol police and event organizers estimated a crowd of between 2,000 and 3,000, though Mayberry said it was unlikely the spotlight affected Monday's vote.
"The majority of the people who voted today, they've probably known how they are going to vote on this bill for quite some time," he said.
Speaking at Sunday's event, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson promised to sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.
Democrats who voted present or abstained from voting offered a variety of explanations.
"I leave that to the families. I leave that to the mother in her faith. I just don't get into those at all," said Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna.
State Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said he intended to vote against the bill but had gotten up and believed he had instructed a seat-mate to do so.
Victoria Leigh, the lawyer representing the ACLU who promised last week's committee a lawsuit should the bill pass, said the strong 76-24 GOP majority in the House may have dampened the desire for debate among lawmakers.
"That doesn't change the fact that this is a facially unconstitutional bill that will cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend," Leigh said Monday.
Restrictions on so-called D&E abortions have passed in six states, though courts have blocked the laws from taking effect in all but two of those states.
Information for this article was contributed by Brian Fanney of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
A Section on 01/24/2017