Arkansas House committee rejects abortion exemption for fatal prenatal conditions

Bill would have allowed abortion in case of “fetal abnormality incompatible with life”

By: - March 7, 2023 1:16 pm

(Getty Images)

An Arkansas legislative panel on Tuesday rejected a new exemption to the state’s abortion ban for cases of fetal abnormalities “incompatible with life.”

Rep. Nicole Clowney (D-Fayetteville) said her House Bill 1301 would allow physicians to induce labor in rare cases when a fetus has a condition that prevents living beyond a few hours after delivery, if at all.

“Having the choice to hold their babies alive will help [parents] grieve an unimaginable loss,” Clowney said.

“The state should not dictate to these mothers how to grieve.”

The Republican-dominated House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee rejected the bill after an emotional 90-minute hearing.

Clowney and the parents and medical providers who spoke in favor of the bill said it would give grieving parents a choice.

Dr. Mary Luann Racher, an OB-GYN at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said that some fetuses with these types of conditions don’t survive through the full terms of pregnancies. Early delivery, she said, can give families “precious” times with their babies before they die.

She also noted that these types of pregnancies — which comprise a very small percentage of overall pregnancies in Arkansas — can come with increased risks for mothers that could be mitigated by early delivery.

Any decisions about these complex pregnancies are made with a group of doctors from variety of different specialties, Racher said.

“These babies are very much wanted,” she said.

One Arkansas couple spoke in support of the bill, recounting their experience last year. Their third child developed a terminal chest condition in the womb. The mother said she traveled to another state, away from her family and support system, for an early delivery.

Representatives from anti-abortion groups, the Family Council and Arkansas Right to Life, spoke against the measure. As did several parents  whose children were diagnosed with developmental problems in the womb, though some of the conditions were not the type covered under HB1301.

Along with several members of the committee, they said that doctors can makes mistakes and miracles can happen.

“Early delivery is abortion,” Arkansas Right to Life Executive Director Rose Mimms said.

Charisse Dean, a Family Council government affairs official, took issue with the bill because “fetal abnormality” isn’t defined.

“It would weaken our state’s already really good pro-life law,” she said.

Arkansas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S. The “trigger law” took effect last year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Under state law, abortion is outlawed “except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.”


Arkansas Code Annotated § 5-61-304



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Hunter Field
Hunter Field

Hunter Field is a veteran Arkansas journalist whose reporting on the state has carried him from military air strips in northwest Arkansas to soybean fields in the Arkansas delta. Most recently, he was the Democrat-Gazette's projects editor, leading the newspaper's investigative team. A Memphis native, he enjoys smoking barbecue, kayaking and fishing in his free time.