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Women's rights, water at risk 

Deadline rolls around and it's hard to know which provocation should demand the most attention.

• WAR ON WOMEN: The Arkansas legislature is in a headlong rush to federal court. Rep. Andy Mayberry's bill, awaiting Senate approval, would prevent abortions at 20 weeks or later except to save the life of a mother or prevent near-death physical damage. Similar laws have been passed in other states and are under court challenge. They represent roughly a four-week advancement in the limits of Roe v. Wade and an enormous erosion in women's medical autonomy, once a bedrock in the law.

WAR ON WOMEN II: Mayberry's bill would be but a historical footnote if Sen. Jason Rapert's bill becomes law. It would make a crime of an abortion performed after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, something that can occur when the fetus is not even six weeks old, the size of a bean. The mortal assault on women's rights would carry the additional insult of forced submission to the insertion of a nine-inch wand in a woman's vagina. It is the only way to detect a fetal heartbeat in the earliest stage of pregnancy, the time when most women seek abortions. Twenty years after Roe v. Wade established an absolute right to pregnancy up to the point of viability of the fetus, another Supreme Court ruling reiterated a woman's right to choose abortion. The opinion said the state's "previability interests are not strong enough to support an abortion prohibition or the imposition of substantial obstacles to the woman's effective right to elect the procedure."

Rapert's bill would prohibit abortion well before viability and present substantial obstacles to a woman seeking an abortion earlier. The legislators who support this bill are re-enacting another civil rights resistance in the 1950s and 1960s when Southern legislators flouted the rule of law with expensive consequences. They'll be expensive now, too, not to mention send an unmistakable message to women about their diminished value.

GUNS: As a constitutional matter, you could argue that the existing state ban on guns in church verged into a constitutional gray area. That's not why it was repealed this week in favor of a law allowing churches to decide whether guns should be allowed on premises. The bill is sloppily written. Backers contend that, though the same law requires businesses to post a sign that guns are not allowed, churches may set rules and post no notice. The unwitting public must guess whether they're entering a packing or non-packing congregation. I'd prefer to know clearly which churches don't feel safe without guns on premises. I feel safer in the others.

• CLOSER TO HOME: Lobbyists for clean water paid a call to urge a kind word for the pending land use and zoning ordinances before the Pulaski Quorum Court Feb. 26. The process of devising rules to protect Lake Maumelle, the main water supply for Central Arkansas, has been fought for eight years. It began with developer Deltic's attempt to pre-empt protective rules through state legislation. Deltic battles on, aided now by the Koch Bros. lobbying team. Deltic could have subdivided its property long ago to be grandfathered outside subdivision rules, but didn't want to do it because then it would have had to pay taxes on its vast holdings as real estate property, rather than as cheap timberland. The land use ordinances are less stringent than environmentalists would like and friendly to existing landowners, who could build additions on their property with little cost or hassle. Lobbyists are working mightily, including some employed to target minority members of the 15-member Quorum Court. Central Arkansas Water will bear the cost of the new regulation. Tougher zoning will come eventually as the city grows. In the meanwhile, without rules, environmental disasters will occur. Ask your justice of the peace to vote for clean water. The alternative is hazardous to your pocketbook and health.

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