- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Senate voted Thursday to require physicians be present when the abortion pill is given, a move to further restrict the procedure in a state that approved a pair of the strictest bans in the country two years ago.

The Senate approved by a 29-4 vote legislation which would bar the use of telemedicine such as videoconferencing to administer abortion-inducing medication. The proposal heads to the House, which has already approved an identical proposal. A bill must be approved by both chambers before it goes to the governor’s desk.

Anti-abortion activists have called the measure their top priority during this year’s legislative session, and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he supports the prohibition.

Sen. Missy Irvin said her bill would protect women in case they had complications from taking the abortion pill and needed medical attention immediately.

“This is about the safety of the mother,” Irvin, a Republican from Mountain View, said before the vote. “I think this is a serious operation, a serious procedure, whether it’s surgical or by chemical.”

Supporters of telemedicine in other states have defended it as a safe and effective way to provide the pill, especially in rural areas where surgical abortions aren’t readily available.

Thirty-eight states require abortion medication to be given by a licensed physician, and 16 states require the medication to be given in person, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that supports abortion access. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which runs abortion clinics in Little Rock and Fayetteville, offers the abortion pill in person and has said it has no plans to begin administering the drug via telemedicine in the state.

The proposed ban comes after the majority-Republican Legislature approved separate measures in 2013 banning abortions 12 and 20 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy, overriding vetoes by then-Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat. A federal judge struck down the 12-week ban as unconstitutional, and the state has appealed that ruling.

Six of the Senate’s 11 Democrats joined Republicans to vote for the telemedicine ban Thursday.

Democratic Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, who opposed the measure, said she believed the state should trust physicians to make the right decisions rather than dictate their practice to them.

“For some reason, we continue to think we’re better at practicing medicine than doctors are,” Elliott said.


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