The national legislative landscape is leaning pro-life, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. It claims lawmakers are debating 351 anti-abortion bills this year, compared to 174 in 2010.
Arkansas is seeing a similar increase. Fourteen bills in the 88th General Assembly refer specifically to abortion, compared to eight in the 87th General Assembly. Of those eight, how many are specifically anti-abortion depends on who you talk to. Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council of Little Rock, says four measures are anti-abortion. But for Murry Newbern, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, it's 10 bills.
Why the surge in anti-abortion legislation?
Felecia Epps, a law professor at the UALR Bowen School of Law, says part of the increase in anti-abortion legislation is due to the freshly-elected crop of conservative lawmakers.
Recent Supreme Court rulings are another factor, Epps says, rulings that fail to define what barriers states can put on legal abortions.
“(For example) What type of restrictions are really going to be a burden, and what can the state do in terms of informing, having waiting periods, legitimately,” Epps said. “I think what's happening is states are putting more obstacles out there, so there's more things a woman would have to go through in seeking an abortion.”
Praise for anti-abortion legislation
Cox says there are several types of abortion bills in the legislature: some protect the unborn fetus, others enhance safety with more oversight, and there is even a bill to regulate the administration of abortion pill RU-486 (which Cox referred to as 'chemical abortion').
“Some (of the bills) would restrict abortions,” Cox said. “Other would make them safer for the women who are there (at abortion clinics).”
Cox says he wasn't surprised by the number of abortion bills introduced this session, pointing out that Americans United for Life (AUL) ranked Arkansas as the fourth most pro-life state in the nation.
“It speaks well for the people of the state and the values that they hold,” Cox said.
Planned Parenthood: bills “attack women's rights”
Newbern criticized the same legislation Cox praised, saying it attacked “women's rights to have a safe and legal abortion.”
Newbern says one of the bills would require Planned Parenthood clinics to meet the same standard as surgical centers because they administer RU-486 (which Newbery referred to as 'medicine abortion').
She says their clinics already meet medical and nursing board standards, and it doesn't make sense to mandate surgical standards for a simple procedure where the patient takes a pill.
HB1855 advances, HB 1979 fails
Lawmakers voted on two abortion bills in committee Thursday.
They passed House Bill 1855, a measure that requires licensing for all facilities that perform 10 or more abortions a month.
House Bill 1979 failed to get out of committee. It would have prohibited abortions in state-owned medical facilities.