- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas House panel on Tuesday supported tougher restrictions on abortion pills but failed to gather enough support for a bill to increase requirements for abortion providers.

The bill approved by a voice vote in the Health Committee would override doctors and require abortion pill providers to guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It would require women take a higher dose of the medication than is what typically prescribed and restrict the time period for administering it from up to nine weeks to up to seven weeks.

Republican Rep. Charlene Fite of Van Buren said her bill would protect women by disallowing non-federally approved uses of the drug, a practice commonly referred to as off-label.

“This is a women’s health issue,” Fite said. “We have seen in our state, and across the nation, serious complications from the use of this drug regimen off-label.”

Dr. Janet Cathey with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences testified against the bill. She said the medical community typically decides best practice for administering drugs and that off-label prescriptions are common for various medications.

“I think this bill is bad for physicians and bad for medicine,” Cathey said. “It sets a precedent that allows law to determine the dose for a given medicine.”

A separate bill to require physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they practice failed to advance. A majority of senators present voted for it, but it fell two votes short of the 11 needed to pass out of the committee.

Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, said her bill would also protect women and that 14 other states have similar laws.

“If there is an emergency, if there is a complication, the woman will be able to be admitted into the hospital quickly and easily,” said Bentley, a registered nurse. “It provides for the continuity of good care for the women in our state.”

No one testified for or against the bill.

Bentley said after the vote that she will run it again and that she expects it to pass with more committee members present.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas American Civil Liberties Union, rejected the argument that either measure will make abortions safer for women.

“It’s disingenuous to say all these bills are about protecting women. That’s a political strategy,” Sklar said after the vote. “The best thing you can do for the health and safety of women is to leave them alone with their doctors and other professionals.”

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has already signed into law the top legislative priority of anti-abortion groups this year - a bill to require a doctor to be physically present when a woman takes abortion-inducing medication. State lawmakers in 2013 enacted some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion limits - banning most 12 and 20 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. A federal judge has struck down the 12-week ban and the state has appealed the ruling.

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Follow Allen Reed on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/Allen_Reed

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