Arkansas panel votes down requiring paid maternity leave of employers that cover abortion costs

Bill sponsor Rep. Aaron Pilkington plans to reintroduce it, explain it differently

By: - February 22, 2023 5:55 pm
Rep. Aaron Pilkington, Rep. Kendon Underwood

State Rep. Kendon Underwood (R-Cave Springs), right, talks with Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R-Knoxville) on the House floor. (Photo Courtesy of the Arkansas House)

An Arkansas Senate committee voted down a proposed law that would have required companies that pay for employees to receive abortions in other states to also provide 12 weeks of paid maternity leave.

Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R-Knoxville) said he introduced House Bill 1006 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and left access to abortion in the hands of the states. Arkansas was one of several states with a “trigger law” that banned abortion almost immediately after the decision in June.

Some national corporations — including Kroger, Uber, Starbucks and several banks — subsequently announced that they would cover travel costs or the abortion procedure itself for employees who live in states where abortion is restricted.

Pilkington said some of these companies do not offer paid family leave, and the bill called for 12 weeks of maternity leave, which he said is based on the average amount offered in 11 other states.

“What I’m doing is making companies that say they want to offer one benefit offer a parity benefit as well,” Pilkington said. “If you have a female employee who becomes pregnant, but you only incentivize one choice, which is to get an abortion, but don’t incentivize the other choice, which is to keep the baby, that’s not real choice for them.”

Businesses who do not pay for employees’ out-of-state abortion costs would be unaffected by the proposed law, Pilkington said.

“A lot of companies are just trying to get by, day by day,” he said. “They’re not trying to play politics. They’re not trying to be woke virtue-signalers.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate 02/15/2023)
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro)
(John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) said he supported the goal of the bill but was concerned that the bill might set a bad precedent.

“I just have a hard time when state government is going to start targeting businesses because we disagree with how they are going to spend their money,” Sullivan said.

No one spoke for or against House Bill 1006 before the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.

The bill failed on a voice vote that committee chair Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) asked to hear again. No committee members asked for a roll call vote.

Sullivan and Sen. Fredrick Love (D-Mabelvale) were among those who voted no.

“There’s no precedent of the state intervening in the role of private companies, and that’s exactly what this bill was going to do,” Love said in an interview.

He added that he sees the bill as “a tool to prevent people having services for abortion” in other states.

Previously, House Bill 1006 passed the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee with no dissent on Feb. 9 and passed the full House with 80 “yes” votes on Feb. 13. Twelve House members voted against the bill and two voted present.

Pilkington said he plans to meet with Sullivan to discuss the bill and eventually reintroduce it.

“I think I didn’t explain it as well as I could have explained it,” Pilkington said.

Pilkington is also sponsoring several other bills pertaining to pregnancy and postpartum health care.

  • House Bill 1010 would require Medicaid to cover postpartum mothers for a full year after giving birth.
  • House Bill 1011 would require Medicaid to cover depression screening for pregnant women.
  • House Bill 1034 would require the insurance reimbursement rate for all births in Arkansas to be equal.
  • House Bill 1035 would require women to be tested for postpartum depression after giving birth and would require insurance policies to cover the screenings.
  • House Bill 1102 would require all newborns to be screened for certain health conditions as recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

None of the bills have yet been heard in committee. The ones pertaining to Medicaid will need fiscal impact statements before being considered, Pilkington said.

The Legislature is currently considering an education overhaul bill and will likely consider prison expansion legislation later in the session, both of which are high priorities of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Those bills’ impact on the state budget will have to be taken into consideration before some of Pilkington’s bills can advance, he said.

“I don’t want those [to] need to be clawed back because we’re having to try to pay for other things,” he said.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.