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Panel Reviews New Abortion Rule Without Comment

LITTLE ROCK — A legislative panel on Friday reviewed without discussion an administrative rule change incorporating new restrictions on abortions in Arkansas.

The House and Senate committees on public health, welfare and labor reviewed new rules for the regulation of abortion clinics incorporating the requirements of Act 171 of 2103, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans most abortions at 20 weeks or later into a pregnancy.

Act 171 asserts that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. Under the law, a woman seeking an abortion who is at least 20 weeks pregnant must undergo an abdominal ultrasound to check for a fetal heartbeat. If a heartbeat is detected, the law prohibits the abortion from being performed, unless the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest or the abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother or protect her from substantial and irreversible physical impairment.

Robert Brech, chief financial officer for the state Health Department, told the public health committees that the rule change received no comments during a public-comment period, other than a question about whether it was being written into the correct section of the Arkansas Code.

Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, the sponsor of Act 171, told reporters he believed the rule change did not attract controversy because the law has already been heavily debated elsewhere, especially during last year’s legislative session.

“Those discussions have gone on and on and on, and at this point I think that the rule implementation is just kind of secondary to that,” he said.

The Legislature also passed a 12-week abortion ban last year, but a federal judge has barred it from taking effect while the Arkansas Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights Challenge it in court. To date the 20-week ban has not been the subject of a lawsuit, although the ACLU has said it intends to file one.

Gov. Mike Beebe called both measures unconstitutional and vetoed them, but the Legislature overrode his vetoes.

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