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Weather Delays Arkansas' Stormy Showdown on Women's Health

PHOTO: Extreme weather is holding up the legislative debate on what Planned Parenthood calls  "the most extreme abortion ban in the country in Arkansas this week.
PHOTO: Extreme weather is holding up the legislative debate on what Planned Parenthood calls "the most extreme abortion ban in the country in Arkansas this week.
February 21, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Arkansas House of Representatives could vote today on a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Meanwhile, Senate action on the latest version of a 12-week abortion ban will be delayed until next week since senators recessed because of the ice-storm warning.

One or both bills - House Bill 1037 and Senate Bill 134 - could be on Gov. Mike Beebe's desk by the end of the month.

Murry Newbern, public policy analyst for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said there's concern that passing these types of laws will cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend them in court, in addition to the controversy over restricting women's rights to make their own medical decisions.

"The legislators are taking personal, private decisions away from women - literally," she said. "In essence, they're making medical decisions for women - and that's not the place for legislators to be."

Gov. Beebe has indicated a belief that either bill would be ruled unconstitutional, and he's concerned about the cost of court challenges. But even if he vetoes one or both of the bills, state lawmakers could overturn his veto with a simple majority vote.

So far this year, Newbern said, Arkansas lawmakers have spent much of their time on what she calls "extreme social issues," while other issues - from jobs and economic development to Medicaid expansion - have taken a back seat.

"They are absolutely preoccupied for the first six weeks of session," she said. "It has been dominated by abortion restrictions and gun laws. So much that needs to be done has not been addressed at all, and I think everyone's frustrated."

Both abortion-ban bills have been revised in recent days to add some limited exceptions. In her conversations with lawmakers pushing these bills, Newbern said, they've told her they're responding to constituents' wishes to restrict abortion access.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - AR