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Arkansas law sets precedent for abortion legislation

The state of Arkansas has recently been a front-runner in the ongoing legal battle over abortion rights.

The Arkansas Legislature overturned Governor Mike Beebe’s veto of a new abortion law on March 6, resulting in the most conservative legislation on abortion nationwide so far.

The new law, the Arkansas State Senate Bill 134, also known as the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, prohibits abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy, when a heartbeat can be detected via abdominal ultrasound.

On March 26, North Dakota “leap-frogged” over Arkansas in terms of legal restriction on abortion when they passed a law limiting abortion to the first 6 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Washington Post.

And so the debate continues.

Arkansas currently has only one clinic, Little Rock Family Planning Services, that performs surgical abortions up to 21 weeks of pregnancy, according to the New York Times.

Planned Parenthood also runs two clinics in Fayetteville and Little Rock, which offer medicinal abortions using RU-486, the “abortion pill.” These can only be done within the first eight weeks of pregnancy.

There are also several clinics, such as New Beginnings Pregnancy Services in Siloam Springs, which provide support and other alternatives to mothers with unplanned pregnancies.

When Governor Beebe vetoed the Arkansas law on March 4, he called it “unconstitutional.”

In his veto letter, he wrote this was because “it would impose a ban on a woman’s right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion well before viability, Senate Bill 134 blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. When I was sworn in as Governor, I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. I take that oath seriously.”

Yet, many are strongly in favor of this new law.

Deacon Keith Fournier wrote in Catholic Online on March 10, “With this legislation the people of Arkansas have lent their voice to our littlest neighbors because theirs is muffled behind the wall of their mothers’ wombs.”

Carrie Curtis, director at New Beginnings Pregnancy Services, said, “We are excited about the law. Having an ultrasound required for these women is a huge step. By passing this law, Arkansas is a front-runner in change. This is going to be a big step in helping other states to change and could propel others toward adopting the heartbeat law.”

Some say the bill will unfairly restrict access to healthcare options needed by women.

“This truly is a sad day for Arkansas women. The Arkansas Legislature has once again disregarded women’s healthcare and passed the most extreme anti-woman’s health bill in the country,” said Jill June, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, in a March 6 press release

“Planned Parenthood will continue to fight these bills and stand up [for] women in Arkansas. We will do all we can to help women receive the health care they need,” June concluded.

Megan Toney, a senior at John Brown University, began volunteering at New Beginnings Pregnancy Services because she wanted to minister in a place of need that was not necessarily easy.

“It is really easy to have a stark opinion until there are faces to it all,” she said about working with young women struggling with what to do about unplanned pregnancies.

“These girls and their babies become real to me,” Toney said. “It is a hard and scary place to be in. Is the right thing still the right thing? Yes, but there is a need for so much compassion and not just an instance of compassion, but a long-term and engaged compassion. Those babies, little as they are, are real people, but so are their mothers. In our fight for right, we sometimes trample people. It made me aware of what my response needed to be. If I am going to be pro-life, then I need to back that up with compassion and alternative options.”

Senior Madison Stewart has also volunteered at New Beginnings. She did it because of her heart for women and her desire to see lives restored and redeemed.

“I cannot fault them for the fear they have, and that abortion is often presented as the only option saddens me,” said Stewart. “What I can say is to know your options. Talk things through with people who know what they’re talking about. If you want to have an abortion, talk to people who have had one, not to the people who want your money. Or, talk to people that haven’t, and ask them why.”

Stewart does not want to see Christians ostracizing women who are considering or have had an abortion.

“I don’t like the condemnation that goes with it, and I think it’s very hurtful,” she said. “Nowhere in Scripture is putting shame on people a positive thing. It breaks my heart to see Christians ostracize these women. Whether their decision is right or wrong, they still need love and healing. This is an awesome opportunity to minister, and I would hate to see that opportunity missed.”

In the debate about abortion, women who are struggling with the emotional consequences of their choice are often overlooked, said Melissa Horton, client services manager at New Beginnings.

“What they don’t realize is all the women that are now coming to that knowledge, that what they thought was just tissue actually had a beating heart, could feel pain and could survive outside the womb, that’s pretty amazing and disheartening at the same time for those who have experienced abortion,” Horton said.

New Beginnings offers post-abortion counseling for these women, too.

“We want them to find peace in what they’ve experienced, and healing. All they have to do is call,” Horton said.

Toney said, “I wish abortion was illegal. However, it isn’t, and laws that give rights like this aren’t usually reversed. So this is reality; abortion is legal. I think that means all the more that we get into the trenches. We don’t give up because certain things are allowed; we just work hard to show that there is more, there is better, there is life to be had.”