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Women's rights under attack 

click to enlarge Sen. Missy Irvin

Brian Chilson

Sen. Missy Irvin

Surprise. A group of Republican congresswomen, led by Rep. Renee Ellerbee of North Carolina, expressed concerns last week about a pending bill to attempt to ban abortion at 20 weeks, well before fetal viability.

Ellerbee thinks the continuing GOP focus on moral issues doesn't play well with millennial voters. The bill also requires a police report of rape for a woman to qualify for the rape exception. Imagine where this puts a woman impregnated when her husband forced her to have sex against her will.

But that's North Carolina. All the top Republicans in Arkansas, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, participated in the annual march against abortion last Sunday. And the legislature continues its work to make abortion harder to obtain in Arkansas.

Two Republican women, Rep. Julie Mayberry and Sen. Missy Irvin, have revived Irvin's unsuccessful 2013 bill to ban telemedicine abortions. None is done here. Which is too bad for rural women who face additional hardship in reaching the providers of abortion by pill.

Yes, I said pill. It is the most common form of abortion now and done no later than nine weeks after a woman's last menstrual period. It has smaller risks than a full-term pregnancy.

There's concern that Irvin's bill is a Trojan horse aimed at hampering all chemical abortions, not just those supervised remotely by a doctor.

It's telling that the desire to limit telemedicine applies only to women's reproductive rights, not more serious health issues. When complications do arise, they rarely, if ever, occur immediately after a woman swallows a pill, yet Irvin and Mayberry insist a doctor should be present.

It might help to know how a chemical abortion is "performed." If a woman is considering abortion, she must have an ultrasound. She then receives information about the test and counseling about alternatives, including becoming a parent. If she wants an abortion, she must wait 24 hours. When she then sees a doctor, she's again counseled. If she decides to proceed, the doctor gives her a pill, Mifepristone. She takes it and goes home with a dose of another drug, Misoprostol. It is supposed to be taken by mouth within 48 hours. In most cases, a miscarriage eventually follows. The clinic schedules a follow-up within two weeks of a woman's initial visit.

Insurance doesn't cover this. Insurance does pay for birth control pills (most places). The pill is a part of comprehensive health services offered by Planned Parenthood, which anti-abortion forces want to run out of business. Readily available birth control pills and comprehensive sex education drastically reduce the need for abortion. The sponsors of the anti-telemedicine legislation patronize women by suggesting they are uninformed and taking risks. It's not a back alley procedure, but a medically tested process that puts a woman with clinic professionals on three separate occasions. The woman is far from alone, as Irvin has suggested.

The drugs can be obtained illicitly. It's better for a doctor to be involved —including by TV — than by Internet acquisition of the drug without a doctor's help. The bare facts — taking a pill induces an early term miscarriage — isn't the language abortion foes prefer. They find it more effective to talk of abortionists killing unborn children. They use the construction even when doctors give a morning-after pill to a woman 24 hours after a rape.

Opposition is often an article of faith, I know, just as faith drives many who'd make it hard for women to get birth control pills. But I also know the public at large isn't wholly in this camp, as last Sunday's parading politicians might have you believe.

The most recent Arkansas Poll, a poll that correctly predicted big victories for the Republicans who led Sunday's anti-abortion march, showed that Arkansas voters, by a 10-point margin, favored keeping abortion legal as now regulated. Some of that number would even make it easier to obtain. Women who want a choice when faced with an unwanted or problem pregnancy are not alone.

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