A team of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporters produced today a massive project on neglect and abuse of Arkansas children. The summary:
Arkansas’ rate of child deaths from assault-related causes, which includes abuse and neglect, ranks it fifth among the states — an average 2.9 children per 100,000 from 2012-17, according to federal mortality data. By comparison, Louisiana had the highest rate, 4.7. Arkansas also has a high rate of non-fatal child abuse.
Arkansas’ rates of child maltreatment likely stem from several factors, researchers say: high rates of domestic violence, lack of access to mental health care for parents, high rates of substance abuse, and more children who live far from hospitals.
Experts fear the problem is worsening as a result of the emotional and economic stress of covid-19.
It was not the intent of the project, but the work turned my mind to the state legislature’s fetal fixation — do everything possible to make abortion de facto unobtainable in Arkansas but do little to provide for better lives of children once born.
I thought first of the demeaning legislation that will make every woman seeking an abortion endure, no matter how much thought she’s given to her decision, a telephone spiel from an anti-abortion private counseling service that will try to dissuade a woman from an abortion (with a significant state payment to the agency).
Will that counseling include the terrible, even deadly, outcomes to children born into stressful family situations? Will that counseling include information about the state’s poverty rate, low education attainment, morbid obesity, opioid abuse, teen pregnancy rate and more? Will it detail our state’s failure to provide adequately for services to address these ills?
Rather than spend the state’s burgeoning surplus on such services, legislators prefer to talk about tax cuts for the already rich and to spend windfall federal support money on cutting taxes for businesses. Bigger investments in health, housing and education support for families under stress have drawn scant attention in this or any legislative year.
The preoccupation with the fetus doesn’t end with mandated lectures to grown women who don’t need advice from Bob Ballinger or Jim Dotson to know what’s best for them.
Legislators also intend to force women to look at mandated ultrasounds, another scare tactic aimed at discouraging abortion.
The fetally fixated also intend to require women who receive pills to end a pregnancy in the first days after conception to get a lecture on possible side effects of the pills and to schedule a return visit after taking the pills. Do they require such lectures and return checkups for the many other medications given to men and women with far more problematic side effects? They do not. Only for women. Only for abortion.
The fixated legislators intend to pass a bill to outlaw abortion completely. This, if the Trump court approves, will require some women, at risk to their own health, to carry to term a severely impaired fetus with little chance of survival. It will send some women to back-alley abortionists. It will send those with means to more enlightened states.
The fixated legislators intend to prevent Medicaid reimbursement for family planning (prevention of pregnancy programs) to any medical provider that also provides abortions (which may receive no government money already). This is aimed at Planned Parenthood, whose contraceptive services prevent pregnancies that lead to abortion decisions.
Pro-life? Pro-family? Pro-birth is more like it.
The legislative record is stocked with too much evidence of warped priorities.
To name just one more alarming example: A proposed constitutional amendment to rid the state’s foundation document of the requirement for equal and adequate education, as enforced by the Lakeview decision. Sen. Mark Johnson would turn all decisions on education to the sole dictates of the Arkansas legislature. We know from this session where Mark Lowery wants to start on editing the social studies textbooks. The biology textbooks have long been ignored, whether on the subject of evolution or sex education.
Abuse of the children of Arkansas is sometimes more subtle than the physical mistreatment detailed by the Democrat-Gazette. But it has its costs, too.
PS: An anti-abortion columnist makes the case that government policies and money in support of children and families would reduce the demand side of the abortion equation