Bill advances requiring abortion-seeking women to call helpline

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 1,083 views 

Women seeking an abortion in Arkansas would be required first to call a helpline where they would be provided information about alternatives and support services under a bill that passed the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee Thursday (Jan. 28).

Under HB 1195, the Every Mom Matters Act by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, women would be required to make a free phone call to a trained professional who would explain services available and offer to connect her directly to the services. Dotson said the phone call could be conducted in five minutes and would not require women to release personal information.

Abortion providers would have to verify that the woman has received the offer and could face fines of up to $5,000 per abortion performed without compliance. The verifying process would be set up by the Department of Health. The bill includes an auditing process that ultimately could lead to the facility’s license being revoked if more than 5% of records indicate noncompliance. It would not apply to a medical emergency.

Dotson said that, based on the results of a program in Texas, the bill could reduce Arkansas’ 3,000 annual abortions by a third. After five years, he said, “A thousand babies per year saved translates into over 40 new classrooms of kindergartners each and every year thereafter.”

Colin LeCroy with the Human Coalition, which offers services in several states, said the program has offered services to 10,500 mothers in Texas over the last two years. A third of the women have elected to continue their pregnancy. The average mother stays with the program about five months. Women are offered obstetric care, information about signing up for Medicaid, job training, resume development and other services.

LeCroy said the phone call can be completed in five minutes.

The state Department of Health would contract with private agencies to provide the counseling. Dotson said that based on programs in other states, the cost would be an estimated $1.2 million to $1.5 million annually after it is implemented in January 2023.

Matt Gilmore with the Arkansas Department of Health, however, told legislators the actual cost would be $4 million to $5 million annually based on past programs such as those for suicide prevention and tobacco cessation. He said the agency sometimes can provide the services cheaper in house than a private agency would do.

The program would build upon the Life Choices Lifeline Program, which was created in a previous legislative session. It wasn’t required and has never been implemented, Dotson said.

“Many abortions are driven by socioeconomic concerns that pre-exist a pregnancy,” Dotson said. “Many women seeking an abortion experience heightened stress and are unaware of the resources available to them. The current process is inadequate to get them the information they need to know to make that decision.”

Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, told committee members she endorsed the bill. No one spoke against the measure, which passed on a voice vote.

In other business, the committee advanced HB 1180 by Rep. Justin Gonzales, R-Okolona, which would require changes in medical professions’ scopes of practice to be reviewed by the House and Senate Committees on Public, Health, Welfare, and Labor.

It also advanced HB 1227 by Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, which specified that truck drivers are not due minimum wage payments for off-duty time, traveling to or from a personal residence, or for personal activities.