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Want an abortion in Arkansas? You'll have to call a hotline telling you not to first.

And every call will be added to a database.

By Lisa Needham - February 10, 2021
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Woman on phone

If GOP legislators in Arkansas have their way, people needing an abortion will be forced to call a state-run hotline before they can have the procedure. The measure has passed both the state Legislature’s chambers, and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, himself an abortion foe, is likely to sign it.

The proposed law would create a toll-free number that patients must call before having an abortion and require abortion providers to verify the patient has called before performing the procedure.

On the other end of the line would be someone providing what the state calls a “resource access assistance offer.” Those offers would include telling people there are healthy pregnancy program services in the state and educating them on other public or private resources available. Everyone who calls the hotline is to be entered into a database.  

The new bill says no one answering the hotline can direct people to abortion providers or provide any information on how to get an abortion. In fact, people hired to staff the hotline cannot have any affiliation with an organization that provides abortions, even if only as a volunteer. 

Notably, the law doesn’t include any money for providing better services for pregnant people. It doesn’t even include any money for the hotline itself, even though the state’s health department said it would cost nearly $5 million annually to operate. 

Arkansas has a terrible track record of caring for pregnant people. It has the fifth-highest maternal death rate in the country. The state doesn’t require reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, nor are there any laws requiring paid medical leave for pregnant people. A serious effort to help pregnant people would address those issues, rather than just creating an unfunded telephone hotline. 

Arkansas already places several obstacles in the way of people seeking abortions. Providers are prohibited from using telemedicine to prescribe the drugs used in a medication abortion. Minors can’t obtain an abortion without parental consent. Nearly all abortions are banned after 20 weeks. 

The state also already requires someone who wants an abortion to receive “counseling” about abortions and why they shouldn’t have one, making the idea of the hotline somewhat duplicative. There is a mandatory 72-hour waiting period, so people must make two trips to an abortion clinic. At the first visit, existing Arkansas law requires the patient to have an in-person consultation where they are told about the risks of abortion and are told that medication abortions can be reversed, which is a dangerous lie.  

Counseling requirements like those that already exist in Arkansas and those that would be imposed by the hotline bill are already required in some fashion in the majority of states. Because of that, it’s unlikely that a law imposing a call to a hotline would be overturned. Yes, it’s an additional burden to people seeking abortion care, but the conservatives on the United States Supreme Court are quite comfortable with severely burdening access to abortion.  


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