The first abortion-related bill of Arkansas's legislative session easily passed through the state House Monday. The bill seeks to ban a procedure not currently offered in Arkansas: drug-induced abortions via telemedicine, where a doctor consults with a patient over video and may or may not provide a prescription.
Republican Representative Julie Mayberry of East End sponsored the legislation along with Republican Senator Missy Irvin. Mayberry said while 2013’s session was marked by sweeping legislation, including a bill seeking to limit access to abortion after 12 weeks, this year’s abortion legislation is over smaller points of access to the procedure.
“I think we did pass some pretty heavy legislation that we need to let work through the system and see where that goes. So, I do see this session as being things that are just kind of fixing little things here and there,” said Mayberry.
Many supporters of the bill, such as Rep. David Meeks (R-Greenbrier), contended it is not only about stopping abortion but also out of concern for the safety of women, “I think it’s needed for the pro-life aspect of it but also for the safety aspect of it for women."
That’s an assumption Democrat Clarke Tucker of Little Rock is uncertain of, “It seems as though telemedicine is an area that’s developing as something that’s good for bringing healthcare to rural communities, so it seems like telemedicine in general has bipartisan support. I’m just curious as to why in this instance, telemedicine in this particularly instance, is so dangerous for the health of the patient.”
However, Tucker along with 10 other Democrats opted to not vote ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Democrats from relatively politically safe districts such as Reps. Warwick Sabin, Charlie Armstrong, and Charles Blake of Little Rock and Rep. Greg Leding of Fayetteville did not vote at all or voted present. Most Democrats joined in supporting the bill. It passed 83 to 4 in the 100 member body.
Minority Leader Eddie Armstrong was one of the few to unambiguously oppose Mayberry’s bill and said women's existing reproductive rights shouldn't be restricted.
“A lot of mothers would like to take that choice up privately with their families when faced with the unfortunate or unforeseen issues that may come up when dealing with an abortion,” said Armstrong.
But Armstrong said the Democratic caucus does not have a unified stance on abortion.
“We understand that there’s a red herring when you get to abortion issues. I anticipate that we’ll maybe see a few more. I expect that our caucus is going to vote the way that their constituents would like for them to vote,” said Armstrong.
The bill now heads to the Arkansas Senate.