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Two suits challenge new abortion laws

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RITA SKLAR: Politicians have "passed laws that defy decency and reason."
  • RITA SKLAR: Politicians have "passed laws that defy decency and reason."

Arkansas legislators "matched cruelty with creativity" this year with the passage of new laws to block women from getting legal abortions, the deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project said Tuesday in announcing the filing of two suits in federal court challenging new laws.

Talcott Camp of the ACLU, who held a press conference along with representatives for the Center for Reproductive Rights, Little Rock Family Planning Services and Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said the suits are a response to what she called "a perilous landscape" that will "dismantle health care for millions of people."

Four Arkansas laws are the target of one suit brought by ACLU, the ACLU of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights: Rep. Andy Mayberry and Sen. David Sanders' so-called "dismemberment bill," which would ban dilation and evacuation, the safest procedure used in later-term abortions; Rep. Kim Hammer's bill that would require notice be given to a woman's partner — or her rapist — before an abortion can proceed; Rep. Charlie Collins and Sens. Missy Irvin and Jason Rapert's bill that would force doctors to request mountains of health care records before performing an abortion; and Rep. Sonia Barker's bill that would require the police be notified of an abortion performed on girls younger than 17, even if there is no evidence of abuse or criminal activity, and require the fetal remains be turned over to the police. The plaintiff in the suit is Dr. Frederick Hopkins, an abortion provider at Little Rock Family Planning Services. Named as defendants are Pulaski Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley, as enforcer of criminal elements of the law, and the members of the State Medical Board. The suit, which seeks a preliminary injunction, has been assigned to U.S. District Judge William Roy Wilson.

All but the medical records law take effect July 30. The medical records legislation is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

The second lawsuit, filed by Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Little Rock Family Planning Services against Nathaniel Smith, director of the state Department of Health, and the department itself, challenges a new law that would require the department to suspend or revoke the license of an abortion clinic for the violation of any regulation, no matter how small. Under current law, problems found by health department inspectors — such as the ripped upholstery at Little Rock Family Planning Services cited in 2016 — are answered with fixes, not closure. No other clinic is subjected to such a draconian law. Rep. Robin Lundstrum and Sen. Scott Flippo sponsored the bill that became the law. The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge Jay Moody.

The ban on dilation and evacuation would effectively make abortion unavailable to women past their 12th week of pregnancy. Where such bans have been challenged, they've been ruled unconstitutional. (The other three laws challenged in the broader suit are "unique to Arkansas," Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, the umbrella organization for the Arkansas Planned Parenthood clinics.)

Lori Williams, the clinical director at Little Rock Family Planning Services, said, "I thought I'd seen it all" about the numerous efforts by the state legislature to interfere in a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy, such as the 48-hour* waiting period that burdens women who do not live close to Arkansas's one surgical abortion provider. "With these new laws, the politicians have sunk to a new low. ... They do nothing to advance women's health," and harm them instead.

National press attending the conference were particularly interested in the fetal tissue disposal law, which amends current state law on who makes the decision on the disposition of the remains of family members. The new law says that a woman seeking an abortion can't make the decision on the disposal of fetal tissue alone, but must get the approval of the father of the child, or if she is a minor, her parents. That means if a woman seeks to abort the issue of a rape, she must get the rapist's approval on the disposition of fetal tissue before the abortion can proceed.

The notification law for minors would require that an abortion provider whose patient is a 16-year-old impregnated by her minor boyfriend report the pregnancy to the local police and supply them with the aborted fetus, as if it were evidence of a crime. Imagine that in a tiny Arkansas town, Camp said; "It treats the patient as a victim and her partner as a suspect."

The medical records law is part of a bill that ostensibly prohibits abortion on the basis of sex selection. If a woman knows the sex of her infant, she is to report it, and once that is done, her provider must request every record made of the woman's entire gynecological and obstetrical care.

In a news release, ACLU Arkansas Director Rita Sklar said, "Instead of protecting women's health, Arkansas politicians have passed laws that defy decency and reason just to make it difficult or impossible for a woman to get an abortion. They've created burdensome bureaucratic hurdles that invade patient privacy."

These groups have sued Arkansas successfully before on efforts to limit not only abortion but family planning and health services provided by Planned Parenthood.

The state can be expected to vigorously contest the suits.

*A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to a 48-day waiting period.

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