After Election, Abortion Opponents See New Opportunity in Arkansas

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 7:21 am  

LITTLE ROCK — Abortion opponents in Arkansas see an opportunity to enact new restrictions, including a ban on the use of telemedicine to make the abortion pill available, with Republicans controlling both sides of the Legislature in next year's session.

Fresh off an election where Republicans won control of the state House and Senate for the first time in 138 years, GOP lawmakers and anti-abortion groups are now focusing on a handful of bills they believe have a better chance.

The proposals still face hurdles that make their passage far from a certainty. They include public health committees that Republicans don't control in either chamber and a focus on budget issues by legislative leaders. But abortion opponents say they're cautiously optimistic that the November election will mean a better climate for their proposals

"I will say that basically any opportunity now is more than any opportunity than we had in the previous session," said Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley.

Mayberry said he plans to reintroduce legislation next year that would ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the disputed claim that a fetus can feel pain after that point. Mayberry's bill was one of 10 anti-abortion measures that failed to clear the House Public Health Committee during last year's session, and it's one of three measures that Arkansas Right to Life says it plans to push for in the legislative session that begins Jan. 14.

Some doctors contend that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, but the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it knows of no legitimate evidence showing a fetus can ever experience pain. The Arkansas attorney general's office last year opposed the measure, telling the panel that it was in conflict with established law and would likely be struck down as unconstitutional.

Rose Mimms, the head of Arkansas Right to Life, said her group is hopeful but still watching to see who is selected as the chair of the House panel. Democrats hold 11 of the 20 spots on the committee, and incoming House Speaker Davy Carter, a Republican, won't announce the panel's chairman until the session convenes in January.

"The chairperson has a great deal of power when it comes to moving bills through committee," Mimms said "If we get a good chairperson, then we'll be encouraged that we'll be able to get done this session what we weren't last session."

One of those measures backed by Mimms' group that was unsuccessful last year was a proposal that would have banned most abortions from being covered through health insurance exchange that would be created under the federal health care law. The Senate passed the restriction last year, but the House committee tabled that proposal after it was amended to include exemptions for rape and incest. Supporters of the bill claimed the amendment was an effort to kill the legislation.

Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, who sponsored the exchange legislation last year, will chair the Senate Public Health Committee in next year's session but said she doesn't know yet if she'll reintroduce the proposal. The committee is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Bledsoe, R-Rogers, said for now she's focusing on getting up to speed on the projected $138 million shortfall in the state's Medicaid program.

"I'm going to be very busy and I'm not going to take as many bills as I did last session," Bledsoe said.



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