LITTLE ROCK — A bill to cut off state-issued grants to Planned Parenthood failed to clear a House committee on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 818 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, failed in a 10-8 vote in the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, falling one short of the 11 votes it needed to pass out of the 20-member committee. The bill passed in the Senate last week on a 19-11 vote.
The bill would bar state grants to any entity that performs abortions or provides abortion referrals, contracts with a person or entity that performs abortions or abortion referrals, or is an affiliate of a person or entity that performs abortions or abortion referrals.
Opponents said the bill unfairly targets Planned Parenthood, which receives about $70,000 annually in federal grants awarded through the state Department of Health to provide educational programs on sexually transmitted disease prevention for high school students.
Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, who presented the bill in committee, did not deny that the bill targets Planned Parenthood, which provides services that include abortion but does not use taxpayer dollars for abortions.
"The people of Arkansas have spoken loudly to me that they don’t want their taxpayer dollars going to Planned Parenthood. At all. Period," he said. "They may do some good things, but overall (Arkansans) are very concerned about the abortions that are performed by this organization."
Karen Swinton, a local health educator for Planned Parenthood, testified that education on sexually transmitted disease is especially important in Arkansas, which she said ranks seventh in the nation in teen pregnancy, third in teen births, seventh in gonorrhea, eighth in syphilis and ninth in chlamydia. Teens have the highest rate of chlamydia in the state, she said.
SB 818 "only makes our health challenges worse," she said.
Committee Chairman Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, said he did not know whether the committee would meet again before the end of the session. Stubblefield said later he will ask the committee to meet one more time and take up his bill again.