Arkansas House approves restriction to abortion medication

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Two years after enacting some of the nation's most-restrictive abortion limits, the Arkansas House voted Monday to prohibit doctors from prescribing pregnancy-terminating pills through telemedicine — a practice that currently isn't even offered in the state.

With an 83-4 vote, the House voted to require doctors to be present when women take abortion-inducing medication, an effort to fend off telemedicine that is used in some other states. It also would require that a doctor make "all reasonable efforts" to schedule a follow-up visit with the woman 12 to 18 days later.

Republican Rep. Julie Mayberry of Hensley said the bill, which now heads to the Senate, would protect women from what she calls "webcam abortions." She said a small number of women suffer complications with the procedure and require surgical abortions.

"If her doctor is in New York City, where does that woman go for help?" Mayberry asked. "We do not want this procedure starting in the state of Arkansas."

No one spoke against the bill. Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, who cast one of the dissenting votes, said in a phone interview Monday that the ban could be harmful because telemedicine helps underserved communities.

"It makes it very difficult for people of low means, where medical care is limited, to have equal access to health care," Walker said.

Opponents have argued the bill restricts a woman's right to an abortion and that medical decisions should be made by doctors. They said nurses or other health care professionals are typically with a woman if the doctor isn't in the same location when the pill is administered.

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, provides abortion medication only in-person.

In 2013, Arkansas lawmakers enacted legislation banning most abortions 12 and 20 weeks into a woman's pregnancy. The Republican led-Legislature enacted both bans, overriding vetoes by former Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. A federal judge has struck down the 12-week ban and the state has appealed the ruling.

Walker said he was not surprised at the bill's overwhelming support.

"At this point, people want to get things done; They want to pass things and get back home," Walker said.


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