The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Wednesday (Feb. 3) advanced a bill requiring women seeking an abortion to first call a helpline where they would be provided information about alternatives and support services.
House Bill 1195, the Every Mom Matters Act, is sponsored by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville.
The state Department of Health would contract with private agencies to provide the counseling. Services would be provided until the child’s second birthday. Dotson said that based on programs in other states, the cost would be an estimated $1.2 to $1.5 million annually after it is implemented in January 2023.
Dotson said data from other states shows that if women are fully informed, one-third will decide not to have the abortion. He said that would equal “roughly a thousand babies saved annually.”
“Imagine five years from that date that this begins, the equivalent of 40-plus new classrooms full of kindergartners will be starting school every year thereafter,” Dotson said.
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.
The bill earlier passed the House, 75-13 with 7 not voting and 5 voting present.
The bill was opposed by Karen Musick, a co-founder of the Arkansas Abortion Support Network, which assists women seeking abortions. She said women already know about the services available.
“There’s no new services being established here,” she said. “You’re doing nothing other than forcing a woman who wants an abortion to make a call to non-medical professionals to share their advice.”
She read a number of letters from some of the women her organization has assisted. A single mother had left the unborn child’s abusive father and had had five C-sections. Another woman wrote that her insurance doesn’t cover birth control and that she had several health issues, including a needed hip replacement. One woman’s 14-year-old was pregnant as a result of a rape. Another woman had five children with a minimum wage job. Another lost more than 50 pounds during her last pregnancy.
“There’s not one thing that this EMMA can tell any of these women that they do not know,” she said.
Afterwards, Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, a co-sponsor of the bill, told committee members, “It’s amazing how requiring a five-minute phone call for a young lady to be able to get information creates so much fear. And I think it’s because sometimes the industry, success means more abortions.”
The committee was scheduled to hear Senate Bill 6, the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, which would outlaw virtually all abortions in Arkansas except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency. The bill is expected to run next week.
The committee also advanced House Bill 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. The bill now advances to the full Senate after having already passed the House, 95-0.