- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a measure that would ban doctors from remotely distributing abortion pills and advanced another proposal allowing for felony battery charges to be lodged against someone who harms an unborn child.

Banning the delivery of abortion pills through telemedicine was the top legislative priority for anti-abortion groups this year, with Republicans in all key state offices. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he supports the plan, which the House passed 85-3.

Earlier Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee voted to change the definition of “person” to enhance the charges that could be filed against someone accused of harming an unborn child.

The felony battery bill opposed by both civil liberties activists and Arkansas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group. They say the bill sends the wrong message to pregnant women.

Also in the pipeline are a bill that would override local doctors and require abortion pill providers to follow dosage limits set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and another to require that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

“We do have pro-life majority in House and Senate and we appreciate that. We’re going to use that to the best of our ability to get stuff done,” said Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life.

Jerry Cox, executive director of the conservative-organization Family Council, backed the bills restricting the delivery of the abortion pill. He said lawmakers are preparing to introduce an “informed consent” law to update information doctors give women seeking to end a pregnancy. Anti-abortion legislators could also consider imposing a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and requiring providers to meet the same hospital-like standards as ambulatory surgical centers.

“I do think the Legislature more reflects the values of the people of Arkansas now than it did 10 or 15 years ago,” Cox said.

The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the telemedicine ban and is also against other restrictions on the abortion pill.

“It dictates the way doctors would have to practice medicine that does not contort with best medical practice,” said cooperating attorney Bettina Brownstein. “It doesn’t further the health and safety of women.”

A bill by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, has created the odd union of Arkansas Right to Life and the ACLU. Arkansas law already defines an unborn child in any stage of development as a person for capital murder and negligent homicide cases, but Bell said a clarification became necessary after the Arkansas Court of Appeals took up a case involving a woman who had used methamphetamine while pregnant.

Brownstein said the bill could effectively criminalize addiction and scare pregnant women away from seeking medical care. Mimms worried that women would seek abortions rather than risk a criminal charge by harming an unborn child.

“That sends a strong message to pregnant women addicted to drugs that we don’t want to send,” Mimms said.


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