Four Arkansas state officials took part in a discussion on the state of reproductive rights in the United States at the White House on Wednesday, nearly a year after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling putting access to abortion in the hands of states.
The 49 state lawmakers at Wednesday’s session came from 25 states that have taken steps to ban or restrict abortion since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision in late June 2022 that overturned Roe v. Wade. A session Thursday will include 32 lawmakers from 16 states that have had continued or expanded access to abortion in the past year.
Arkansas was one of several states with a “trigger law” that banned abortions in June 2022 almost immediately after the Dobbs ruling. The only exception to the state ban is to save the mother’s life in a “medical emergency.”
Democratic State Representatives Ashley Hudson of Little Rock, Vivian Flowers of Pine Bluff, and Nicole Clowney and Denise Garner of Fayetteville were at the White House Wednesday.
Hudson, Clowney and Garner all introduced bills into the Legislature earlier this year that would have added exceptions to Arkansas’ abortion ban.
- Hudson’s bill would have allowed Children who have been victims of incest to obtain an abortion.
- Clowney’s bill would have allowed Doctors may induce labor on rare occasions when the fetus’s health is “incompatible with life.”
- Garner’s bill would have expanded the legal definition of a “medical emergency” to include the health of the mother.
All three bills failed in Republican-led committees.
White House lawmakers Wednesday debated how to raise awareness of reproductive rights issues, even in state legislatures that have little or no opportunity to pass certain bills, Hudson said in an interview.
She said she appreciates the opportunity to share ideas and experiences with lawmakers outside of Arkansas about “useful and progressive” policies and “what works and what doesn’t work in some states.”
The Arkansas Legislature saw a wide array of maternal and reproductive health laws in 2023
“We easily become engrossed in what is happening in our own state and forget that there are so many different perspectives on this important issue,” she said.
Hudson supported legislation signed in February who created support systems for pregnant and nurturing teens in Arkansas public schools. Other state legislators told her the law could serve as a model for future bills in their states, which she found “really exciting,” she said.
The Arkansas Legislature saw a wide range of invoices during the 2023 session on maternal and reproductive health care, with mixed results. The state’s abortion ban has given prenatal and postnatal health care a higher priority for state leaders, Hudson and other lawmakers said in April after the session ended.
Arkansas has consistently had one of the best in the country highest rates of teenage pregnancy, child poverty and maternal mortality.
Hudson said state leaders should stop “chasing the title of being the most livable state in the country,” which Republican officials have touted since the abortion ban went into effect.
Hudson said some policies that would make Arkansas “more livable” didn’t pass the legislature this year, such as a bill to do so Expand Medicaid coverage after childbirth in Arkansas from 60 days to 12 months after birth.
A provision in the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 gives states the option of this Medicaid extension of coverage. as of Wednesday, the vast majority of states have partially requested this option; Arkansas is among the few that haven’t.
The legislature also has not passed a bill that would have required presumptive Medicaid eligibility for pregnant Arkansas residents, nor one that would have required the insurance reimbursement rate to be the same for all births in Arkansas.
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Among the guidelines that actually went into effect was Medicaid’s commitment to adopting depression screening for women during pregnancy and long-acting reversible birth control for mothers after childbirth. Another law requires all newborns in Arkansas to be screened for certain rare health conditions, as recommended by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Hudson said actions like these are necessary in light of the Dobbs ruling.
“Especially in states like Arkansas, where we continue to have these discussions and fight these battles over access to abortion…at the same time, we have to think about how we can care for these women and children in the situation they are in now.” ” said Hudson.
Flowers, Garner and Clowney could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Data visualization created with Flourish