- Brian Chilson
On a voice vote, the House Public Health Committee has taken Sen. Jason Rapert’s bill to ban most abortions in Arkansas off the table so that it could be discussed.
His SB 134 would require a fetal heartbeat check for women seeking an abortion. Detection of a heartbeat would make performance of an abortion a crime by the doctor, except in cases of rape and incest and to save a woman’s life. Rapert has said he will amend the bill to require only external hearbeat monitoring. This would mean an extension of the period in which abortions would be possible to as much as 10 weeks. In its unamended form, the bill requires a transvaginal probe in the earliest stage of pregnancy. Heartbeats can be detected by this method as early as 5.5 weeks.
Forty years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent still holds that a state may not ban abortions before fetal viability. That has been held to be at least 24 weeks, though a case is moving through the courts that could reduce that period to 20 weeks. Amended or unamended, Rapert’s bill would impose the nation’s strictest abortion ban. It would be instantly subject to court challenge and, unless the U.S. Supreme Court has a change of heart, be declared unconstitutional. Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel have both expressed concerns about the bill and the amendment on transvaginal probes, while potentially making the bill more palatable to some people, does nothing to address its core unconstitutionality.
The committee has taken a recess and soon will resume. I only wish it could hear from the Air Force pilot who described his family’s difficult pregnancy and decision to terminate it. His wife would have been forced to carry a gravely afflicted fetus to term by Rapert’s legislation.
UPDATE: Rapert and Rep. Ann Clemmer introduced the amendment, which they said would essentially ban abortions at 12 weeks rather than 6 (and use an abdominal ultrasound only rather than a transvaginal probe). Questions about fetal anomalies went unanswered. Rapert repeatedly lied that the bill would pass muster with current jurisprudence, including Roe v. Wade. In a news release, he said that since Roe v. Wade allows states to “regulate” abortions in the second trimester, that his bill is constitutional. But it and other decisions say state bans in the first TWO trimesters are impermissible.
Questioning was surprisingly timid from pro-choice Rep. Greg Leding, who stated that he was “much more comfortable with the amended version of this bill.”
A UAMS doctor testified that the law would interfere with the management of high-risk pregnancies. He called it a “violation of relationship between patient and doctor” and said that it would put physicians and women in harms way. He also stated that the bill doesn’t adequately address fetal anomalies and other health emergencies. Finally, he testified that the law would threaten accreditation and potentially force UAMS to send residents out of state for training (with no budget to do so).
An anti-abortion counselor testified on behalf of another counselor not in town. Her story: she had an abortion for medical reasons. This led her to suffer and cry to herself for 12 years, and she continues to miss the baby. The counselor testifying in her stead said that she worked with many women who still suffered from the anguish of “being able to make that decision.” She said it kept some women from pursuing their career and education and might lead to becoming self-destructive.
Ob/gyn doctor Janet Cathey (who has previously testified before the committee on the Mayberry bill) testified that the bill does not make sufficient exception for congenital anomalies. “If I don’t understand as a physician, it’s not very well defined,” she said. She testified that doctors cannot diagnose congenital anomalies before 12 weeks. She also made a point that hasn’t been made enough: the bill targets poor, disadvantaged, and younger women. Finally, she explained that the scientific research suggests that most women do not have post-traumatic stress after an abortion.
UPDATE: The bill passed by a voice vote and is on to the House. Rapert’s news release on his victory said one Democrat, Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, had supported his bill.
Clemmer said “the purpose of this bill is to make abortion safe, legal, and more rare.” Actually, no. She wants abortion to be illegal. The anti-abortion forces talked about preserving “choice.” Really. Amazing. Choice is now shut at least at 12 weeks.
Clemmer also offended a number of people with her gross insensitivity. Heck, she’s been pregnant. What’s a few more weeks of pregnancy, she was heard to remark. Tell that to the surgical nurse who made the decision to end her pregnancy in the 21st week but would otherwise have been required to to continue a pregnancy with a fetus unable to survive outside the womb.
Gov. Mike Beebe sent his strongest signal to date that he might veto the legislation, which could explain the Democrats rolling over today (and probably on subsquent votes). “It’s still bad. I think it’s unconstitutional. If it gets to me, then to a large extent I’ll be guided by that.”
It IS unconstitutional. Clemmer’s smug assertion that abortion remains illegal until 12 weeks overlooks the clear dictates of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which prohibits state bans pre-viability. Rapert has in the past cited a scrap of a non-pertinent clauses in the Casey decision as supporting his view, but it requires ignoring the totality of the opinion.