TOPICS > Health

Arkansas Abortion Law Bans Procedures After 12 Weeks of Pregnancy

March 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
The Arkansas legislature passed the nation's strictest abortion rules, outlawing any procedures done after the 12th week of pregnancy. To learn more about the legal ramifications for doctors under the new law and how it will effect other states, Hari Sreenivasan talks with Suzi Parker, a reporter for Reuters from Little Rock.

JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, Arkansas has passed the nation’s most restrictive abortion law. Passed by the Republican-controlled legislature over the Democratic governor’s veto, it imposes a near-ban on the procedure from the 12th week of pregnancy.

Hari Sreenivasan has our look.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For more on what happened in Arkansas and the broader context of what’s happening in other states, we turn to Suzi Parker. She is a reporter with Reuters with Little Rock.

Thanks for joining us.

SUZI PARKER, Reuters: Thanks for having me.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, it’s called the Human Heartbeat Protection Act.

What are the political conditions that led to its passage?

SUZI PARKER: Well, there’s been — in November, the Republicans won the statehouse for the first time since Reconstruction. So, for the first time, they have controlled both the House and the Senate.

As a result, they have decided to enact or file many abortion bills. And the 12-week one was one of many, including a 20-week ban that passed on Feb. 28th and was enacted into law.


Originally, the bill would have banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Why are the number of weeks so crucial in these pieces of legislation?

SUZI PARKER: I think that a lot of times that we have seen across the country that statehouses are taking the abortion issue and doing these kind of bills, filing these kind of bills because they feel like the federal courts and the Supreme Court is not working fast enough on overturning Roe vs. Wade.

So that’s why there’s a whole slew of bills filed right now in the Arkansas legislature that addresses abortion restrictions.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, this law in Arkansas is not set to take effect until this summer. What are — what are the abortion rights groups planning to do?

SUZI PARKER: The ACLU of Arkansas, the national ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights plan to file a lawsuit, I’m told, sooner rather than later, possibly within the next two to four weeks.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And can you put this in context of legislation that is happening in other states?


Yesterday, on the same day that the Arkansas House voted to enact the 12-week law, Idaho — a federal court judge in Idaho struck down a 2011 law that banned abortions at the 20-week stage. And similar litigation is going on in Arizona and in Georgia.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, we have seen or at least reported that even folks who are in the anti-abortion camp see that perhaps this isn’t the best strategy.

SUZI PARKER: That’s right. That’s right.

The Council for the National Right to Life has said that the 12-week law probably wouldn’t be upheld in court, but we continue to see these kind of bills filed.


What about these other kinds of maneuvers that are happening in other states? We have got waiting periods in some states, required ultrasounds in others, parental notification. Is this part of a larger strategy?

SUZI PARKER: It seems to be.

Arkansas also has several bills filed. I know Indiana has — the Senate passed an ultrasound bill earlier this year. Virginia tried to do the same last year with a vaginal probe ultrasound that would happen before a woman could get an abortion. So, yes, we’re seeing this all across — all across the country.

And a bill was just filed yesterday on the heels of the 12-week law to defund Planned Parenthood here in Arkansas.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. And what does Planned Parenthood have to say? There aren’t too many facilities. Is it right that Arkansas has one facility that does surgical abortions and …

SUZI PARKER: That’s correct.


SUZI PARKER: Mm-hmm. And the Planned Parenthood here in Little Rock only does medicinal abortions, that being like Plan B. And they feel like they’re being politically targeted by these abortion — the abortion — the right.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And getting back to the politics of it for a second, was this possible without Democratic support?

SUZI PARKER: Well, six Democrats voted yesterday, along with Republicans, to override this, but, no, I don’t think so.

I think if the House had not turned Republican in November with the 2012 elections, I don’t think that they would have the votes to get this through. With the Republicans taking over, they also got seats on committee — on committees that would have in the past stopped a bill like this from going to the floor.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What are you hearing kind of on the street, so to speak, as a reaction to what’s been happening in the legislature?

SUZI PARKER: Well, a lot of people both on Democrat — both on the Democratic and Republican side think that it’s a waste of time. They think that the legislature should be focusing more on education, on the economy, on minimum wage, things that they — that people seem to think affect their lives on a daily basis more than abortion.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And there are still exemptions in this law for rape or incest or medical need, is that right?

SUZI PARKER: Right. The 12-week one does have that. The 20-week one doesn’t allow for lethal disorders.


And so what happens here? The mother wouldn’t necessarily be prosecuted, but any doctor performing these would?

SUZI PARKER: That’s right. A doctor would be — would lose their medical license.


SUZI PARKER: It would be revoked.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Suzi Parker joining us from Little Rock, Ark., a reporter with Reuters, thanks so much.

SUZI PARKER: Thanks for having me.