Political News

Trump win buoys push for new abortion limits in Arkansas

Posted 2:28 p.m. Thursday
Updated 2:30 p.m. Thursday

— Buoyed by Republicans' expanded majorities in the Legislature and Donald Trump's presidential victory, abortion opponents in Arkansas are pushing for bans on a commonly used second trimester procedure, terminating a pregnancy based on the fetus' sex and other restrictions next year.

A Republican lawmaker plans to file legislation next week to prohibit dilation and evacuation, or "D&E," a second trimester procedure that abortion supporters say is the safest and most common.

"It's barbaric, it's savage, it's cruel and it's something we don't need to support as a society," said Rep.-elect Andy Mayberry, who is also president of Arkansas Right to Life, which calls the procedure "dismemberment abortion" and says the ban is its top legislative priority when lawmakers convene in January.

Planned Parenthood countered, saying it's prepared to fight any proposed restrictions it considers "extreme and ideological attacks" on women.

The anti-abortion push is being echoed in Republican statehouses around the country and in Washington after the November election. In Texas, where the U.S. Supreme Court struck down large swaths of a 2013 abortion restrictions law that was among the toughest in the U.S., a bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks even in cases where fetal abnormalities are detected.

The Republican-controlled Congress is expected to seek halting federal funding of Planned Parenthood and a 20-week abortion ban. Trump has said he supports both measures, and also has promised to fill Supreme Court vacancies with justices who would consider overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.

Arkansas Republicans will hold 101 of the 135 seats in the Legislature next year, along with all but a handful of seats on the House and Senate committees that are expected to take up the abortion restrictions.

"This is all part of a broader strategy to continue creating a culture of life in the state of Arkansas rather than one that sees abortion as the solution to the problem," said Jerry Cox, head of the Arkansas Family Council, a conservative group that has pushed for abortion restrictions in the state.

Last year, Arkansas lawmakers approved several abortion restrictions that included a ban on doctors prescribing pregnancy-terminating pills through telemedicine and a prohibition on state funds going to abortion providers. One of them — restricting how the abortion pill is administered — and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's attempt to cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood were blocked by a federal judge.

Similar laws against the D&E procedure are in effect in Mississippi and West Virginia, while bans approved in several other states have been put on hold due to legal challenges.

In 2015, 683 of the 3,771 abortions performed in Arkansas were performed through D&E, according to the state Department of Health. Mayberry declined to say what exceptions, if any, his proposal would include.

The Legislature should "focus on policies that increase the health of all Arkansans, not on wasting taxpayer money to introduce legislation that will most likely be challenged," according to Ashley Wright, public policy manager and lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Great Plains.

Cox said his group will push to join seven states in banning so-called sex-selection abortions, where a pregnancy is terminated based on the fetus' sex. He also said the group will advocate for banning "wrongful life" lawsuits, where a doctor would be sued for not performing an abortion.

Meanwhile, the Republican lawmaker who authored the 12-week abortion ban struck down by federal courts said he'll focus on changing the U.S. Constitution rather than state-level restrictions.

State Sen. Jason Rapert said he'll introduce a resolution asking Congress to call a national convention — which can happen if 34 states request one — to add an amendment defining life as beginning at conception.

"You do away with the entire process we've gone through for 40 years where states pass laws to protect the lives of unborn children but then the federal courts ... strike it down," Rapert said.

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Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo.

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