The war on women in Arkansas 

Sen. Jason Rapert and his colleagues attack abortion.

In testimony before the state House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor, obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Janet Cathey sought to explain to legislators why a bill ostensibly drawn up to prevent fetal pain would, besides requiring women to carry babies sure to die at birth to term, subject the fetus and infant to more pain. She described what happens when, in one example, the amniotic fluid that nourishes and protects a fetus leaks out: The uterus begins to constrict, so that the arms and legs of the fetus become contracted, and the lungs, deprived of fluid, fail to develop properly. If the fetus does not die in utero and is carried to term, it will suffocate after birth.

Yet the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," by Rep. Andy Mayberry (R-Hensley), which would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks with no exceptions for fetal anomalies, rape, incest or mental health and which is based on iffy science rejected by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that the embryo at 20 weeks feels pain, was passed by the House on Monday with 75 yeas, 20 nays and 5 not voting. Why?

Conway Republican Sen. Jason Rapert's bill that would prevent abortion after six weeks, when a probe inserted into a woman's vagina can detect a heartbeat, and prosecute doctors who performed abortions after the heart-beat cut-off with a Class D felony, passed the Senate 28-6.

(The House health committee on Tuesday voted to table Rapert's heartbeat bill on a motion by chairman Rep. John Burris. Later on Tuesday, Rapert said he would amend the bill to require a test only when an abdominal ultrasound could be used, which is typically 10 to 12 weeks.)

Given that Rapert's and Mayberry's bills are unconstitutional, since the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision has said that the ability of the fetus to live outside the mother — generally considered to be 23 or 24 weeks — is the standard under which an abortion may be prevented, and that they will cost the state many tax dollars for the court fight the state ACLU promises, why?

The full House passed on Monday a bill by Rep. Butch Wilkins (D-Bono) that would prohibit policies offered under a health insurance exchange from covering non-elective abortions. (No insurance policies cover elective abortion.) The federal health care law that allowed the insurance exchanges already prohibits federal dollars from being spent on abortion, thanks to an amendment by Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson. Women who are part of the exchange would be able to buy insurance that would cover abortion, but the portion of the cost that would apply to a medically-necessary abortion would be figured independently to insure only the buyer's money, and not federal dollars, is being spent. Should Wilkins' bill become law, women who are insured through the exchange won't be able, with their own money, to insure themselves against potentially enormous hospital bills that could result from procedures necessary to preserve their lives. Is that what legislators intended?

Another bill, by Sen. Justin Harris (R-West Fork), would define a fetus as a child under the state's Child Maltreatment Act and require all health care professionals who suspect a pregnant mother has been abusing alcohol or drugs to turn her in to the child abuse hotline. If they didn't, they could be charged with a felony. It has been passed over a couple of times by the House health committee, so maybe the bill, which could keep a pregnant woman with substance abuse problems from seeking prenatal care or confiding in her physician, will die a quiet death.

Why is the war on women's rights — which nationally figured into the defeat of a couple of Republican congressional candidates — being waged so successfully in Arkansas?

Testimony before House and Senate committees suggests several possible reasons why Arkansas's legislators are embracing bad law.

1. They want to codify in state law their interpretation of God's law. Lawmakers and those who have testified for their bills often invoke God's name and what they believe to be His will. Julie Mayberry, testifying for her husband's bill, said it was God's plan that her child be born with spina bifida. Mayberry, after the hearing, told a reporter that if a woman chose to have an abortion despite counseling and being told that she was "going against God's word," she was immoral.


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