- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A Senate panel on Wednesday endorsed a bill Wednesday that would bar public funding for Planned Parenthood, a move the women’s health organization said could jeopardize education and health care programs.

Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield of Branch said the bill would bar Arkansas from awarding federal or state grants to entities that perform abortions. It wouldn’t apply to funding available through the Medicaid program.

“I am a strong proponent of the sanctity of life and I believe without that, not a lot of other things matter,” Stubblefield said Wednesday. Later, he told The Associated Press he doesn’t want public funds to potentially subsidize abortions and that many other groups provide aid to women.

The Senate Health, Welfare and Labor Committee advanced the measure to the full body in a voice vote. No one testified in favor of the bill other than Stubblefield. It could come up on the Senate floor as early as Thursday.

It’s unclear how much funding the state provides for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which runs abortion clinics in Little Rock and Fayetteville. The only other provider in the state, Little Rock Family Planning Services, doesn’t receive any state or federal funding.

The only public testimony offered Wednesday was from Ashley Wright, who represents Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. She said the organization uses the grant funding for women’s health care and sexual education programs. The organization didn’t provide the amount of money it receives from state grants.

She added that other laws already block public funding for most abortions.

“It is difficult to understand why individuals opposed to abortion want to undermine money for family planning, education, and contraceptives that help prevent the need for abortion,” Wright said.

Arkansas could join 10 other states that have moved to defund Planned Parenthood, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. Missouri and New Hampshire are also considering similar bills.

Arkansas’ lawmakers passed some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion limits in 2013 by banning most abortions 12 and 20 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. A federal judge has struck down the 12-week ban; the state’s appeal is still pending.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson in February signed what was identified by anti-abortion groups as their top legislative priority - a bill barring the use of telemedicine when providing abortion-inducing medication.

Stubblefield sponsored a similar defunding bill in 2013 to try to obstruct Planned Parenthood from providing sex education in Little Rock public schools. That bill failed to garner enough support in the Senate.

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

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