Arkansas officials have targeted abortion access once again, this time by utilizing mental abuse as a tactic. Lawmakers in the state voted Thursday to require women seeking abortions to call a pro-life hotline prior to undergoing the procedure. The state’s Senate approved the measure in a 28-5 vote, passing one of several abortion restrictions that have been filed in the state to date, the Associated Press reported. The House-backed measure is now on its way to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, whom lawmakers are confident will support the bill.
To enforce the “Every Mom Matters Act,” the state will set up a toll-free number with information on services available for those who do not wish to have an abortion. Essentially, this initiative forces women into possibly reconsidering the decisions they made for their bodies and creates an unnecessary obstacle in abortion access. “These continuing and demeaning attempts to shame people for their personal medical decisions and block them from care are backward motions that hurt Arkansans,” Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said in a statement.
Despite this being a clear step backward in reproductive rights, legislators claim they are helping women by setting up the hotline. “The idea with this is that you’re empowering women in order to be able to make the choice to not have an abortion,” Republican Sen. Bob Ballinger said.
Not only is this measure a clear ploy to restrict abortions in the state, but it will be costly to implement and maintain. According to the Department of Health, it will cost an estimated $175,000 to set up the hotline and an additional $4.8 million annually to operate it. Legislators are requiring it to be set up by 2023, with repercussions for those who do not abide by the measure.
According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, doctors who perform abortions without verifying their patient has completed the required five-minute call could face a $5,000 fine. Audits of health facilities will be conducted by the state to ensure compliance.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Arkansas legislators have looked to limit abortion access under the guise of protecting and “empowering” women. At the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Daily Kos reported that Arkansas was one of six states to use the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to ban abortion. State officials issued orders to temporarily ban abortion procedures during the crisis, deeming them as nonessential. Letters were sent to health care officials threatening them with closure and license suspension if they proceeded with conducting non-life threatening abortions.
Reproductive rights are fundamental human rights. No one should be coerced or gaslighted into making a decision that may not be what they want for their body and health. Additionally, policies that ban or limit abortion do not decrease the number of abortions, as some GOP officials believe. Instead, they restrict a woman’s right to her bodily autonomy and increase the number of unsafe abortions and maternal health problems that occur.