by Max Brantley
The bill would have cut off money to organizations that provide abortions — and to others who have relationships with abortion providers.
The practical effect was to cut off roughly $90,000 Planned Parenthood has received to provide sex education aimed at pregnancy prevention and fighting HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. The money is spent primarily in Little Rock. None is spent on abortion.
The usual anti-abortion legislators supported the bill in the face of impassioned testimony from an educator about the benefits of the program. Rep. Kim Hammer wanted to know how she could claim a benefit from the work when indicators such as pregnancy, abortion and disease weren't declining. Duh. The state doesn't have comprehensive statewide sex education programs; this program operates only in a limited place. Anti-abortion legislators, such as Andy Mayberry, worked over the Planned Parenthood representative, Karen Swinton, over ads that have targeted opponents of Planned Parenthood. Not that anti-abortion legislators have ever used the issue politically, of course.
Bettina Brownstein, an attorney for the ACLU, told the committee that the bill was clearly a 1st Amendment violation by preventing help for other agencies that have any contact with Planned Parenthood. A rape crisis center that referred someone to Planned Parenthood for AIDS testing would be prevented from receiving public money. It's an illegal boycott and a violation of equal protection, she said. She said legislative comments during debate have made clear that the bill is about nothing but punishing Planned Parenthood for its support of abortion, which remains legal in the U.S.
If free speech had as much protection as guns in Arkansas, this bill never would have been introduced.
Rep. David Meeks argued for the bill by saying Planned Parenthood had a profit nationally, so it can afford to lose the state funding. He suggested the educator, Swinton, whom he complimented for her enthusiasm, could leave Planned Parenthood to provide the program with another agency.
Planned Parenthood's news release:
SB818, the bill aimed at eliminating Planned Parenthood prevention programs in Arkansas was defeated by the House Public Health Committee today.
The bill would have eliminated two grants for Planned Parenthood HIV and Syphilis prevention and outreach programs for young people in Arkansas. Additionally this bill could have prohibited public funds through the state for not only doctors who provide abortion, but anyone that refers for abortion, or contracts with an entity which does.
Statement from Jill June, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland
“Lawmakers who voted against this far reaching bill stood up for the young people in Arkansas who rely on Planned Parenthood for life saving prevention programs every year. Our HIV and STI prevention programs provide medically accurate, age-appropriate information to more than 2,000 women, men, and teens every year. Politics should never be put ahead or their health and well being. We are proud the Public Health Committee did the right thing today.
“Planned Parenthood has been a trusted provider in Arkansas for more than 40 years. We have been providing the same core preventive health services and education in Arkansas communities for decades. Our work hasn’t changed, but the politics in Little Rock have. We will continue to be there for women, men and families who count on us — no matter what.”