Abortion ban exception bill fails in House panel


An Arkansas House of Representatives committee declined to advance a bill Tuesday that would add an exception to the state’s abortion ban for lethal fetal abnormalities.

Currently the ban only has an exception for medical emergency to save the life of the mother. House Bill 1301 would add an exception “in the case of a fetal abnormality incompatible with life.”

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette states the committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor declined in a voice vote to send the bill to the full House for consideration.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, said the additional exception would give pregnant women “a narrow, but critical exception to our state’s total abortion ban.”

She said the bill would permit abortion in cases where “crucial parts of the baby’s anatomy — the brain, the skull, the kidneys — fail to develop.”

“This exception is exceedingly narrow,” Clowney said. “I want to be clear that it only applies to women whose babies have no chance of surviving outside the womb.”

Dr. Luann Racher, an obstetrician and gynecologist from Little Rock, explained some of the lethal abnormalities that can develop in unborn children, such as being born without vital organs such as a brain, kidneys or lungs.

“For some families, an early delivery may be the only opportunity they have to meet their child,” Racher said. “Unfortunately, whenever we have an unborn child with a lethal anomaly they are at increased risk for passing away while they are still in their mother’s womb.”

Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, said her group opposes the bill.

“Early delivery is abortion,” she said.

Arkansas’ ban on abortion took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 landmark case of Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for states to ban the procedure. The day after the Supreme Court’s decision, then Attorney General Leslie Rutledge signed a certificate implementing a 2019 law that outlaws abortion.

Clowney argued that her bill would give mothers the choice to end a pregnancy that will likely end with a birth of a child who is either dead or close to death.

“All this bill would do, would be able to allow a mother to grieve her loss in whatever way she chooses,” Clowney said.

Those who testified against the bill said doctors can get diagnoses wrong.

“Even physicians here in our state aren’t sensitive to the value of every life,” Chantelle Bisbee of Little Rock said.

Bisbee said she had a daughter diagnosed with anencephaly, a lethal condition where a child is born without portions of their brain or skull.

“I had a physician treat me like I was wasting his time because my child was going to die,” Bisbee said.

Jon Brown, a father of four, said doctors told him his youngest son would likely not survive due to a genetic abnormality that was “not compatible with life.” Brown said doctors misdiagnosed his son, something he and his wife were elated to discover after he was born.

“I know that baby now is in first grade, and he’s as healthy as a horse,” Brown said.

Husband and wife Cody and Chelsea Stovall of Fayetteville said because of Arkansas law, she had to seek medical attention out-of-state, when her daughter was “given the diagnosis of not viable” in utero, including a hole in her chest and her intestines “strangling her heart.” Chelsea Stovall said she had to travel out-of-state for an early delivery, away from her doctor and the comfort of her family and friends.

“Because of the ways that the laws in Arkansas are written, my doctor wasn’t able to deliver my baby,” Chelsea Stovall said. “I couldn’t stay in the state that I love, at the hospital that I trust, with the doctor who flawlessly carried me through two C-section pregnancies.”

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