Share This Page

Arkansas GOP focuses on abortion; Planned Parenthood funding up next

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 8:51 p.m.

LITTLE ROCK — Not content with enacting the most restrictive abortion law in the country, Arkansas Republicans plan to press the legislative advantage their party hasn't enjoyed since Reconstruction by making it even more difficult for women to get abortions in the state.

The GOP-controlled Legislature on Wednesday overrode Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of a bill banning nearly all abortions beginning in the 12th week of pregnancy, when a fetus' heartbeat can typically be detected through an abdominal ultrasound. That law wouldn't take effect until 90 days after the legislative session ends in a month or so, but the Legislature last week overrode a veto of a near-ban on abortions starting in the 20th week. That law took effect immediately.

State Sen. Jason Rapert, who was behind the 12-week ban, wants to cut all public funding to Planned Parenthood. And the state's top anti-abortion advocacy group is urging lawmakers to ban providers from remotely administering the abortion pill via a video hookup — a practice they've derided as “webcam abortions.”

The moves mark a major shift in a state already considered to have some of the tightest restrictions on abortion in the nation, and they're worrying Democrats who say the newly Republican-controlled legislative majority is obsessing over abortion at the expense of issues such as education, health care and economic development.

Knowing the Legislature needed only a simple majority in each chamber to override his vetoes, Beebe nonetheless rejected both bans and said they clearly contradict the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision and the state will end up wasting money having to defend the laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said it will sue to block the 12-week restriction from taking effect, and courts are weighing the legality of similar 20-week bans passed in other states, which are based on a theory rejected by most experts that a fetus can feel pain by then. On Wednesday, a federal judge deemed Idaho's 20-week ban unconstitutional.

“I was hoping we were finished with what I think is, intended or not, an attack on women,” said Sen. Joyce Elliott, a Democrat from Little Rock who has been an outspoken critic of the new abortion restrictions.

Rapert is now calling for the state to prohibit any state or federal funds from going toward any entity that performs abortions. It's a measure that's aimed at cutting off public funding to Planned Parenthood, which doesn't perform surgical abortions in Arkansas but distributes the abortion pill at two facilities in the state. Arkansas' only clinic that performs surgical abortions is in Little Rock.

The proposal would cut off money Planned Parenthood receives from the state for non-abortion programs, including federal grants disbursed by the state to the group for education programs in Little Rock schools on sexually transmitted diseases.

“I'm glad for them to do education and do those sorts of things, but I do not like them utilizing funds, indirectly even, to support their efforts with abortion in our state,” Rapert, a Republican from Conway, said Thursday.

Planned Parenthood officials vowed to fight the legislation.

“For many Arkansas women we care for, we are the only health care provider they rely on every year for affordable care including well woman exams, lifesaving cancer screenings, contraception and STD prevention,” said Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.