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Abortion providers continue to navigate legislative barrage in Arkansas

Published: Aug. 30, 2021 at 10:53 AM CDT
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LITTLE ROCK, AR (Gray DC) - People gather at least once a week outside the Planned Parenthood in Little Rock, AR, protesting with signs in hands – signs saying things like “babies are murdered here.” Planned Parenthood is one of two locations in the entire state of Arkansas where women can get an abortion. The other is Little Rock Family Planning Services.

Abortion providers say they are fighting an uphill battle to provide care in the state, even after a court blocked Senate Bill 6 months ago - a state law that would have instituted a near total abortion ban. But the health care professionals say conditions remain difficult.

“Each year they keep pushing the envelope, so to do this did not surprise me at all. It’s a very hostile state for women,” said Dr. Janet Cathey, a provider a Planned Parenthood.

The anti-abortion legislation was signed into law by Governor Asa Hutchinson (R-AR). It amounted to an outright ban on abortion, even in cases of incest and rape. A federal judge blocked the law before it could go into effect in late July ruling the legislation is “categorically unconstitutional”. Dr. Cathey says the measure, which would ban abortion from the time a fetal heartbeat can be detected, still sent a chill through her office.

“There’s real people behind these bills that they pass. And when they hurt women, they’re hurting families,” said Dr. Cathey.

Gloria Pedro works in public policy for Planned Parenthood, lobbying the legislature to stop crafting laws that she says inhibit women from seeking an abortion. Pedro says trying to fully ban abortion in the state is a futile gesture given the Supreme Court precedent set in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

“The party line at the legislature is that we’re going to be the number one pro-life state,” said Pedro. “But pro-life means taking care of the people that are already here, and when we’re not doing that everyone knows it’s just a smokescreen.”

The Arkansas Republican Party refused an interview request when this topic was mentioned. The author of the legislation did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Governor Hutchinson.

But Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life agreed to an interview. Her organization helped write the abortion ban law.

“We are the most pro-life state because we respect life. We’re in the bible belt. A lot of us have a deep-held religious faith,” said Mimms.

Mimms argues her state has many resources for pregnant women - adoption services, support groups, and other alternatives to abortion. She says she is optimistic with a more conservative Supreme Court installed under President Donald Trump, overturning Roe v Wade is on the horizon, allowing bans in her state and others to go into effect. The nation’s high court is taking up such a case, originating from a Mississippi law, in the Fall.

“We believe every child has a right to life regardless of their state of conception, you know, how they were conceived. (It) shouldn’t reflect on them as to whether they live or die,” said Mimms.

But Dr. Cathey says each case is unique, and no choice is made lightly.

“It’s not an easy decision for any woman. But it is their decision,” said Dr. Cathey.

The Arkansas law was set to go into effect in late July when U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted a preliminary injunction while she hears a challenge to its constitutionality.

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