LITTLE ROCK — Three bills to impose new restrictions on abortions advanced in the Legislature on Thursday.
The Senate approved Senate Bill 34 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, which would ban an abortion if the fetus’ heartbeat can be detected, unless the mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of a rape or incest.
The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee gave a "do pass" recommendation to House Bill 1037 by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, which would ban an abortion after 20 weeks — the point at which the bill claims a fetus typically is able to feel pain — except to save the life of the mother or save her from irreversible physical impairment.
The same committee also endorsed HB 1100 by Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, which would ban insurers from offering abortion coverage through the state’s health insurance exchange, except through a separate rider with a separate premium paid with no government subsidies.
Rapert’s bill, titled The Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, passed in the Senate in a 26-8 vote. It goes to the House.
Rapert said the heartbeat of a fetus can sometimes be detected as early as six weeks.
During the Senate debate, Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said the bill offended her because it "requires an invasive procedure to determine whether or not life exists."
She said poor women will be unable to pay for the medical procedure to detect the fetal heartbeat and regardless of the law people will still get abortions, legally or illegally.
"People make these choices every day whether they’re good or bad," Chesterfield said."We need to keep this safe, we need to keep it seldom. I don’t want to go back to a time where women use kerosene and cloths hangers because they have no choice."
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, said the decision on whether to have an abortion was a difficult and personal one and should only be decided by a woman and her doctor.
Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, spoke for the bill, saying the measure was about more than a woman and her doctor.
"It’s about another being, another soul," he said.
The bill requires the state Department of Health to write and adopt rules based on "standard medical practice for testing for the fetal heartbeat of an unborn human individual."
Mayberry’s bill, titled The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, cleared the House public health panel on a voice vote. The bill advances to the House.
Witnesses who testified against the bill objected to its lack of exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or for anomalies that would make survival after birth unlikely.
Dr. Linda Worley, a psychiatrist, testified about a woman she treated whose unborn child had no kidneys.
"To make her have to carry the full pregnancy would have been hard," she said. "This bill … would put those of us who helped with good, compassionate care in jail."
Mayberry testified alongside his wife, Julie Mayberry, who offered emotional testimony about their daughter Katie, whom Julie Mayberry chose to carry to term after learning that she would be born with spina bifida. Katie is now 11.
"I need you to understand what a ‘no’ vote on this bill says to me and says to my daughter Katie and other children like her born with challenges in front of them. What it says is that you value one person’s life over another," Julie Mayberry said.
Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, asked Andy Mayberry why he did not include an exception for cases of rape or incest.
"While those are absolutely horrific acts, those children didn’t have anything to do with it and they shouldn’t be asked to pay the penalty of their life," Mayberry said.
He filed a similar bill during the 2011 session, but the bill failed to get out of the House Public Health Committee.
Wilkins’ bill passed in the committee in a voice vote with no discussion. It advances to the House.
An attempt by Wilkins to get the bill through the committee on Tuesday failed when several members who supported it failed to attend.