Anti-abortion bills are stacking up so routinely with automatic super-majority Republican votes that supporters of women’s medical rights rarely bother to appear at pro forma committee hearings.
There is another side, as illustrated by an op-ed from Brandon J. Hill, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains.
Planned Parenthood operates a clinic in Little Rock that, among other services, prescribes pills that induce a miscarriage in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. It also provides contraceptives that prevent unplanned pregnancies that can lead to abortion. The governor banned Medicaid support of that worthwhile service along with other Medicaid-paid services, such as STD screening. The legislature also is moving to ban comprehensive sex education through Planned Parenthood programs, another proven path to prevent abortion.
Hill’s comments on the legislative session.
At Planned Parenthood Great Plains, we know first-hand that anti-sexual and reproductive health care legislation puts the health of Arkansans at risk. But that’s no secret — the politicians passing those laws know it, too.
Earlier this month, Gov. Hutchinson knowingly signed an unconstitutional ban on abortion care. This law is not designed to make health care safer; its intent is simply to force the Supreme Court to take up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.
Abortion bans like SB 6/Act 390 are a waste of taxpayer time and money. While this unconstitutional law is headed to the courts where it will eventually be overturned, the people in Arkansan communities will suffer.
This approach by legislators — a willingness to harm their constituents to send a message — isn’t new. Already, we’ve seen dangerously few safety net resources dedicated to family planning and other reproductive health care, the so-called defunding of Planned Parenthood that prevent us from offering care in critical programs like Medicaid, a lack of comprehensive sex education available in our communities, and now, attacks on access to gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary youth. The health care of Arkansans is declining because for too many politicians, drawing clickbait headlines is more important than championing lifesaving health care.
Health outcomes in Arkansas are among the worst in the nation. Under the “leadership” of anti-abortion legislators and Gov. Hutchinson, Arkansas continues to see the highest rates of teen pregnancies, infant and maternal mortality, and sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
In my 15 years of research on best practices for sexual and reproductive health care, I can affirm that sexual health education works, STI/HIV prevention works, and access to affordable reproductive health care works. Arkansas is yet another national case study of what happens when the consequences of playing politics with health care come home to roost.
How much longer will we allow Arkansans to suffer, and how much further will we push health care out of reach? How long will our legislators boast about knowingly creating unconstitutional laws that drive Arkansas to the bottom for health outcomes in the nation?
Elected officials in Arkansas are not taking action to address our state’s public health crises. Instead, they’re creating more burdens and barriers to essential health care, even when they know those laws will be struck down. We do need legislators who take action — to improve access to care, to invest in our communities, and to ensure that all Arkansans have the opportunity to lead safe and healthy lives. But that’s not what we’re getting.
Arkansans aren’t pawns in a game, and their lives shouldn’t be used to set up politicians seeking to climb the ladder. The health and well-being of our future generations must come first.
Rather than making headlines for violating rights, it’d be nice to see state leaders earn press about innovative solutions to the serious health problems plaguing Arkansas.