Ostensibly out of concern for women’s physical and mental health, the Arkansas General Assembly this year passed six anti-abortion bills. None of them benefit women’s health. Several of them could endanger it. But politically, any legislation that makes it difficult for a woman to exercise her legal right to abortion is golden in the eyes of the anti-choice elements who now dominate lawmaking in Arkansas.
Getting the most scorn from physicians in and outside Arkansas is a provision in HB 1578 (Act 1086), sponsored by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Springdale) and Sen. Jim Hendren (R-Gravette), that requires the state Department of Health to provide women who have taken a drug to induce abortion information on how to reverse the abortion. That sounds sort of like closing the barn door after the horse is out, but it’s possibly more dangerous than that. The so-called “abortion reversal” requires giving the woman a high dose of the hormone progestin.
“There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that supports that method,” Little Rock Family Practice administrator Lori Williams said. An “abortion reversal,” which an Arizona ob-gyn called “tantamount to quackery” after that state signed a bill similar to HB 1578, is, fortunately, difficult to obtain, in that, according to Williams, “there is only one physician in the country who claims he has a way to reverse medication abortion, and he has an extremely small number of cases, like six patients, that he has attempted this on. … We don’t know what effect that would have on a fetus” or whether it would be safe for the woman, she said. “There is no data.”
Suzanna de Baca, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which encompasses Arkansas, decried the new law, saying, “Make no mistake — this law is based in politics and not science.
But, as Williams pointed out, “abortion reversal” is just one of many problems legislators busied themselves with this session. Act 1086 also requires a woman to meet in person with the doctor who is to administer her medicinal abortion (Mifeprex, or mifestiprone, followed up by misoprostol) 48 hours ahead of the scheduled abortion. At this appointment, the doctor is to provide to the patient materials to be developed by the state Department of Health that includes a DVD showing an ultrasound of the fetal heartbeat at four to five weeks and subsequent gestational ages and materials on alternatives to abortion, color photographs of fetuses at two-week gestational increments, information on the risks of abortion (but not the risks of childbirth) and information on fetal pain, a controversial theory.
Arkansas law previously required a physician to administer Mifeprex but not the 48-hour advance appointment and the woman could take the second medication at home. Benton Republican Rep. Lanny Fite’s HB 1394 (Act 577), the “abortion-inducing drugs safety act,” requires that women return to the doctor’s office for misoprostol. A third visit is to confirm the abortion was successful. With the newly required appointment 48 hours previous to the doctor’s giving his patient Mifeprex, Arkansas law now requires that women seeking a medical abortion make four trips to their physician.
Requiring trips in person before and after the pills are administered is “a terrible burden for women,” Williams said. The first visit is unnecessary, given that information to be provided is easily obtainable either online — the state will be required to put all the information on a website — or by phone.
Act 577 has another problem: It restricts the time in which the drugs can be administered to no more than seven weeks after conception, the original FDA guideline. However, Williams said, “There is extensive medical research that supports that use beyond that to nine or 10 weeks gestation is safe.” The language of the bill — which also spells out dosages — poses risks to women by requiring doctors to adhere to 25-year-old FDA guidelines on timing and dosage rather than “evidence-based” regimens. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says such evidence-based regimens — which allow for significantly lower dosages of drugs and a longer window for use, “improve medical abortion in terms of expense, safety, speed, and adverse effects.”
Rep. Julie Mayberry (R-Hensley) and Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) were lead sponsors of identical bills (HB 1076 and SB 53) that outlaw telemedicine in the administration of a medicinal abortion.
“Many of our patients travel from hundreds of miles away. They will have to take off work, find child care and transportation for no other reason than [legislators’ desire] to make it more difficult” to end an unwanted pregnancy, clinic administrator Williams said. Some women will be forced into motherhood by the roadblocks the new legislation throws up.
West Fork Republican Rep. Justin Harris, who has been the subject of controversy over his decision to give away his adopted 3- and 5-year-old daughters to a man who later raped the older one, introduced the “parental involvement enhancement act,” Act 934, which amends an earlier law that required minors to be accompanied by their parents when seeking an abortion. Now the parent or guardian accompanying the young woman must provide two forms of identification, a government-issued photo I.D. and “written documentation” that proves the parent’s or guardian’s relationship to the minor.
The act also requires minor girls who wish to obtain a judicial waiver to now file in circuit court in the county in which they live. Minors usually file in Pulaski County Circuit Court and then come to the clinic for counseling, Williams said.