by Max Brantley
The House Public Health Committee today endorsed Rep. Andy Mayberry's bill to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of a pregnancy.
It was recommended for passage on a voice vote. Ayes and nays were both indistinct in the voting, but no roll call was requested.
The same committee later endorsed a bill to ban insurance coverage of abortions under the federal health care law.
UPDATE: And, in bigger news, the Arkansas Senate voted 26-8 to approve Sen. Jason Rapert's unconstitutional bill to ban most abortions by prohibiting them when a fetal heartbeat is detected. His bill will require a vaginal probe of women in the earliest stage of pregnancy and mean a prohibition of abortions as early as 5 weeks, against a Supreme Court-upheld protection for abortions up to 24 weeks. If adopted in the House, a lawsuit will soon follow that the state will spend a fortune defending before losing.
ROLL CALL: These eight senators voted to uphold the rule of law: Cheatham, Chesterfield, Elliott, Flowers, Ingram, Johnson, Lindsey, Thompson. Burnett did not vote, same as a no in effect.
Current law, embodied in U.S. Supreme Court rulings, prohibits abortion bans before viability of the fetus, or ability to live outside the womb. Various rulings have narrowed the original Roe v. Wade window from 28 to 24 weeks. The law, based on reporting over a six-year period through 2011, would prevent 80 to 100 abortions a year in Arkansas, Mayberry said. Mayberry's bill contains no exception for victims of rape or incest or fetuses unlikely to survive after birth. Rep. Greg Leding noted the bill could force women with diagnosed fetal anomalies to carry a child to term. Other states have considered or imposed a 20-week limit and a challenge to such a law in Arizona is working its way through federal courts.
Mayberry said he'd prefer to reduce the period further. He perhaps recognizes the U.S. Supreme Court, unlike Sen. Jason Rapert, who proposes to ban abortions from the time a fetal hearbeat can be detected, as early as 5-6 weeks.
Dr. Janet Cathey, a gynecologist, testified against the bill. She said it raised concerns about patients. She noted that post-20-week abortions were very rare and often in response to serious medical conditions. She detailed births of children that would die soon because of prenatal conditions, after additional pain. She recounted the death of a mother in Ireland where an abortion that would have saved her life from an infection caused by the fetus was prohibited. She noted, too, that the lack of a rape exception would apply to many children, some mentally ill and often poor. "I dispute whether a fetus feels pain," she said, in countering the argument for the legislation. She said professional medical organizations have concluded fetuses don't experience pain until after 26 weeks. She said the bill shouldn't be passed without allowance for fetal anomalies and rape and incest and to eliminate criminal penalties for doctors.
A young woman who said she was a rape victim testified for the bill. She said she never regretted delivering her child, now 7, though a stroke left her unable to walk or talk. "I cannot imagine her not in my life," she said. (The bill doesn't REQUIRE any woman to have an abortion. It only prohibits an abortion by those who'd make that choice for medical reasons.)
A psychiatrist, Dr. Linda Worley, implored that the committee to think about providing for pain and suffering of women. She said there were "tough cases" on whom the bill could inflict additional mental anguish.
Another obstetrician, Richard Wyatt, spoke for the bill. He said most late abortions were not for "lethal anomalies" but for conditions that fetuses could survive. He also disputed Worley's testimony about depression in women forced to term. He said he'd had a patient who'd been told she was carrying a fetus without a brain. After a "little guidance and counseling," she decided to carry the baby to term and the baby lived for 11 hours and 13 minutes. "She told me this week that was the best 11 hours and 13 minutes of her life and she cherished every minute of that." He said others who were "guided appropriately" would feel the same way. Under questioning, he said it was always preferable for a woman to carry the baby to term. A woman who chose to deliver a child she knew lacked a fully formed brain said she also didn't regret her decision and said the hour she lived took the sting out of her death. She complained that many doctors encouraged abortion or induced labor when the condition was diagnosed. She said she knew women who regretted abortions in that case and felt they hadn't been provided sufficient information. (The bill wouldn't require more information for pregnant women; it would prohibit abortion for all women past an arbitrary date, regardless of their knowledge of the condition.)
Mayberry closed by urging legislators to vote for an "opportunity for life."
UPDATE: The committee followed up with reconsideration of Rep. Butch Wilkins' bill to prohibit coverage of abortion in private insurance exchanges set up under new federal health care legislation (except through a separate rider, which is a practical impossibility). It, too, passed on a voice vote after falling a vote short on a roll call earlier this week. Are Democrats trying to limit damage for a vote against one or the other terrible anti-choice bills still working their way through the system, such as Jason Rapert's patently unconstitutional bill to ban abortions earlier than five or six weeks? We'll see.
Whatever, the state has some court costs ahead of it. And the women who can afford it will be going to other states to end pregnancies.