Arkansas has passed House Bill 1566, known as the Tissue Disposal Mandate, which requires a fetus to be disposed of with the consent of all other family members. Signed into law in March, this new provision is linked to the state’s Final Disposition Rights Act of 2009. According to that law, when a family member dies, all relatives must agree on what to do with the body. Bill 1566 classifies embryonic or fetal tissue from an abortion as a deceased family member, and as such, the woman and father of the fetus have an equal say over its disposal- regardless of whether the father is her husband, boyfriend, casual hookup, or a perpetrator of sexual assault.
Set to go into effect at the end of the month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sued to block the law, claiming that it would force a woman who has been sexually assaulted to get permission from her rapist before she has an abortion. As the ACLU writes, “the only way to get Arkansas legislators out of the exam room is to take them to court.” With the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, this new Arkansas law would force a woman to obtain permission from her partner (or family members, if she is under 18) if she wanted to get an abortion.
“What’s most detrimental about this is that they just tied it into an existing Arkansas law that talks about disposing of human remains of any person who is deceased. And that law gets very specific on who has the right to consent,” says Lori Williams, clinic director of Little Rock Family Planning Services (one of three abortion providers in the state). “Many of the patients do not wish to involve their partner in the decision to terminate a pregnancy.”
Under current Arkansas law, a physician can dispose of the embryonic or fetal tissue following a surgical abortion or miscarriage through incineration or other means, while women who opt for a medical abortion can dispose of the tissue at home. Under the new provision, physicians will face criminal charges if they fail to notify the women’s sexual partner about how the tissue will be disposed of.
“He was there at conception so he ought to be there through the whole process,” said Republican Representative Kim Hammer, the bill’s primary sponsor. I think that all life, from conception through birth and right up through death by natural causes, needs to be treated with dignity, respect, and also a unified approach to deal with the remains.”
Pro-choice activists worry that should the provision be enacted in its current form, it would allow third parties to block an abortion.
“In most cases, a woman has a circle of support in her decision,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU. “But that circle should include the people she brings in--her family members, her clinicians, her faith leader, her mom. Whoever she brings in, that’s who belongs there. The state has no business notifying anybody who she does not choose to bring in the circle of her decision process.”
While the law does not allow the sexual partner or other family members to directly stop an abortion, they must all agree on the method of disposal- and could go to court if their opinions clash. If a woman is forced to go to court, she could be pushed well past the point where she can legally obtain an abortion. In Arkansas, abortions are banned after 22 weeks.
“This is all happening before she even gets the abortion, because the doctor has to know he or she will be able to dispose of the tissue legally and without facing criminal liability,” Camp said. “And meanwhile, time’s just a wasting.”
That’s really the whole point, isn’t it? Arkansas isn’t allowed to ban abortions according to federal law, but if they make it difficult and time-consuming enough, women seeking abortions will either be forced into traveling to another state or face charges for having the procedure. And the lack of protections for women impregnated through rape, incest, sexual assault or domestic violence is a glaring red flag. Of course, Hammer says he doesn’t think the law is intended to be like that.
“I can’t speak for judges in the state of Arkansas, but I don’t see judges who ultimately have the control to make that decision applying it that way,” Hammer said. “But I will tell you, if that becomes an issue, I’d be glad to bring clarity to that so somebody who is in that unfortunate situation isn’t required to do that. I don’t agree with the idea that she would have to notify who raped her.”
What a load of bullshit. I’m sorry Hammer, but the fact that you need to intervene in special cases is such a crock of shit. Look, I acknowledge that he and other pro-lifers are entitled to their opinion, but the fact that no exceptions were even considered for this bill tells me all I need to know.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, around 4,590 abortions were provided in Arkansas in 2014. Things have become increasingly difficult for women since then. A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information to dissuade her from an abortion, as well as being forced to wait 48 hours before the procedure is provided. Don’t even worry about the money issue, because abortion coverage is banned under state insurance exchange plans.
Of course, Bill 1566 is just one of the slew of fetal burial bills that have been passed by numerous states after the deceptively edited videos from David Daleiden about Planned Parenthood. Friendly reminder that the video creators were charged with 15 felonies, including some fraud-related infractions. But the fact that these videos were widely discredited by anyone in the medical field and industry has escaped the pro-life crowd. Bill 1566 is one of four abortion-related measures Arkansas has passed this year that the ACLU targeted in their lawsuit. House Bill 1032, known as the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, prohibits dismemberment abortion. In the medical industry, this procedure is known as dilation and evacuation, which is the most common and safest method used in second-trimester abortions. A clause in the law states that the husband of a woman getting such an abortion can sue the doctor to stop the procedure, as long as the husband is the “father of the unborn child.” And because- once again- there is no exception in the law for rape or incest, a woman’s rapist or abuser can file suit to stop the abortion. According to CNN, both new laws are set to go into effect on July 30.
The idea that state legislators must be reminded that women commonly undergo less-than-ideal circumstances that result in pregnancy is just another reminder than they need to get out of the business of legislating a woman’s body. When will this stop? If you took just ten, even twenty minutes talking to a woman about her experience with abuse, harassment, and even sexual assault, it’d be an easy thing to remember. But that would require these idiotic Republican bill sponsors to pull their heads out of the asses long enough to hear something other than the sound of their own voices.
Lastly, I’d like to address Hammer’s defense. “He was there at conception so he ought to be there through the whole process.” Talk about nonsensical drivel. Every conservative politician who has defended violating a woman’s reproductive rights has sung pretty much the same tune. These laws have nothing to do with advancing women’s health and everything to do with controlling women’s bodies. Hey, maybe someday in the future, if a man wants to keep his baby, we can transplant the fetus into his body so he can experience the unbelievable experience of carrying another being for nine months. But until that day comes, stop fucking forcing women to carry pregnancies to term that they do not want. Stop forcing women to make impossible and even illegal choices regarding these fetuses. How about just giving a woman the ability to decide on her own?