Here's a rundown on some of the new laws enacted during the 100 days of the 89th General Assembly, which informally adjourned April 23. Formal adjournment is May 17.
Act 301 (Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway) outlaws abortions after 12 weeks gestation, and Act 171 (Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley; Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs), outlaws abortions after 20 weeks. Also: Act 72 (Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono), prohibits insurance coverage of abortions; Act 156 (Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch), defines personhood as beginning at conception and allows a woman to use deadly force to protect her fetus; Act 1032 (Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette), defines personhood as beginning at conception for purposes of legal action; Act 725 (Hester), requires parental consent for abortions performed on girls under 18 and that forensic samples be taken from aborted fetuses from girls under 18.
EFFECT: Legislators, overriding vetoes by Gov. Mike Beebe, decided to require Arkansas women to bear children, whether they want to or not, if they are 12 weeks or more pregnant, when an ultrasound can detect the fetal heartbeat. There is no exception for fetuses so malformed that they are destined to die in utero or at birth. There are exceptions to save the life of the mother or prevent irreversible damage to her organs or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
Act 301 requires that a woman seeking abortion submit to an ultrasound to detect the fetal heartbeat. (In its first iteration, sponsor Rapert wanted to require that ultrasound to be vaginal; he amended the bill after doctored images of him playing the fiddle with a vaginal ultrasound were created for the Internet.) The woman's doctor will be required to inform her of the results of the ultrasound in writing and provide information on the "statistical probability of bringing the unborn human individual to term." She will then have to sign a form acknowledging she's been told the heartbeat could be heard, and continue the pregnancy. Act 171 bans abortions after 20 weeks, declaring that that is the point at which the fetus feels pain. Whether it causes emotional pain to require the woman to carry to term — or as long as it can last — a fetus she knows will not survive was disregarded.
FUTURE: Two doctors have filed suit in federal court naming the state Medical Board as defendant challenging the constitutionality of Act 301. A separate suit challenging Act 171 is expected.
Act 1227 (Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home) removes race as a factor in student transfers between districts.
EFFECT: A federal judge last year ruled unconstitutional the state's practice of allowing school districts to consider race as a criterion for allowing transfers between districts. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case in January, and now has asked lawyers in the case to submit briefs arguing whether or not it should rule in the wake of Act 1227. But in perhaps solving one question the new law has created a whole new batch. Act 1227 removes race as a factor in student transfers between school districts, but it also lets school districts opt out of school choice, without any state review, if they have been mandated to remedy the effects of racial segregation in the past. The past is not defined. Many districts in the state could opt out under that criterion — Blytheville, Camden-Fairview, El Dorado and Hope already have. Some have even argued that the entire state has a history of segregation, which might allow even districts without a history of their own to opt out. Among those that don't opt out, don't expect the racial makeup of districts to change overnight (read: white flight). The new law caps the number of transfers allowed from a district to no more than 3 percent of the district's student population per year.
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