Arkansas Abortion Bill Banning Most Procedures Passes State Senate
If enacted, the ban would be the most stringent in the nation. The Ohio House passed a similar ban in 2011, but it was sidelined in the Senate last year over concerns that it might be found unconstitutional. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe told reporters Thursday that's the same concern that he's researching.
"I'm waiting on lawyers. I think that's the big concern right now – does it run afoul of the Supreme Court or constitutional restrictions?" Beebe said. "That's the first thing we're looking at."
The Senate approved the new ban the same day that a House committee advanced two other abortion restrictions, part of a package of legislation anti-abortion groups believe are poised to become law now that Republicans control the state General Assembly.
The Senate approved the proposed "Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act" by a 26-8 vote. The measure, which now heads to a House committee, requires a test to detect a fetal heartbeat before an abortion is performed. If one is detected, a woman could not have an abortion, except in cases of rape, incest and if a mother's life is in danger.
Similar legislation is also being considered in North Dakota and Mississippi. All have faced complaints from abortion rights groups that it runs afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
"I'm asking you to stand up for life, and I believe when there is a heartbeat, based upon even the standard the Supreme Court has utilized, you cannot have a viable child without a heartbeat," Sen. Jason Rapert, the bill's sponsor, told lawmakers before they approved the legislation.
Five Democrats joined all 21 of the Senate's Republicans to vote for the restriction. Two Democratic lawmakers who spoke out against the bill said they believed it would be an invasion of women's rights to make decisions about their own health if the state enacted the ban.
"I don't want to go back to when women used kerosene and clothes hangers because they didn't have a choice," Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, told lawmakers.
"Can you imagine what kind of feeling that would cause when inserted into a woman?" Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, asked Rapert on the Senate floor. Flowers voted against the bill.
"No," Rapert, R-Conway, replied.
The bill could go before the House Public Health Committee as early as next week, but its fate is uncertain. Democrats control 11 of the 20 seats on the panel, and Republicans only hold a 51 seat majority in the 100-member House.
Though the Legislature has considered abortion restrictions in recent years, most proposals haven't made it to the governor's desk under Democrat majorities. Beebe, however, has backed some abortion restrictions. He signed into law a proposal two years ago placing new regulations on the clinics that offer the abortion pill and in 2009 he signed legislation that mirrors a federal law banning late-term abortions.
Abortion rights advocates criticized the Senate for passing the legislation.
"This bill not only jeopardizes the health of all women who become pregnant in Arkansas, it's also unconstitutional," said Murry Newbern, lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. "It creates an undue burden for a woman seeking safe abortion and contradicts Roe v. Wade. "
The two other abortion restrictions that passed the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee earlier Thursday including legislation that would ban most abortions starting at the twentieth week of a woman's pregnancy based on the disputed notion that a fetus is capable of feeling pain at that point. The measure provides for some exceptions involving the health of the mother but it does not exempt rape or incest.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, said that passing the legislation was a moral obligation. Mayberry's wife, Julie, testified about her experience carrying to term a child with a disability.
Lawmakers on the House committee also approved legislation, without any discussion, that would prohibit most abortion coverage offered by Arkansas insurers under part of the federal health care overhaul. That measure does include rape and incest exceptions. It was approved by a voice vote with some dissent.
Abortion opponents hailed the votes Thursday as their biggest gains in years in Arkansas.
"I think a lot of people are beginning to understand that the people of Arkansas by and large are pro-life and you're seeing that reflected in how people vote here," said Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council.
Oregon First to Cover Trans Youth Under Medicaid
Beginning October 1, 2014, Oregon will become the first state in the nation to offer medically necessary transition-related care to transgender youth covered under Medicaid.
On January 11, Portland-based TransActive Education & Advocacy announced that the Oregon Health Plan and its Healthy Kids Program will cover transition-related care for young people experiencing gender dysphoria, reports PQ Monthly.
According to PQ, services covered by the new health care plan will include not only mental health counseling and pediatric evaluation, but also medication, procedures, and follow-up care related to the suppression of puberty, which advocates say can often help trans youth avoid traumatic pubescent experiences that arise from a body that develops in conflict to the youth's gender identity. (Pictured above: TransActive Executive Director Jenn Burleton)
"Pubertal suppression provides transgender adolescents the option of avoiding unwanted, irreversible, and deeply distressing changes that come with birth-sex pubertal development," said TransActive executive director Jenn Burleton in a statement. "Far too often trans adolescents experience increased suicidal ideation as a result of these changes and the indifference of others about the impact these changes have on trans youth."
Burleton noted that while such treatments are effective, they can also be prohibitively expensive. Out-of-pocket costs can reach $1,000 a month, putting the lifesaving treatment out of reach of many Oregon families, reports PQ.
The new policy requires a comprehensive mental health evaluation and recommends ongoing psychological care for the gender-variant youth.
Read more about this first-of-its kind policy here.
LGBT Travel Market Biggest Ever, New Report Says
The report, released Wednesday at the World Travel Market, an industry event in London, puts the potential value of the LGBT leisure travel market at a record $181 billion for 2013, up from $165 billion this year.
The United States is the biggest single-country market, at $52.3 billion, but the total value of the eight biggest markets in Europe surpasses the U.S. at $58.3 billion.
Out Now Global CEO Ian Johnson said LGBT people make travel a priority despite the economic crunch many face. “Many LGBT people have grown up experiencing things a bit tougher than most, so a difficult economy, and working to keep things moving in tough times, including our travel plans, is part of the modus operandi for many of us,” he said.
“Like many people, LGBT consumers are finding the cost of living tough and some are working two or more jobs to keep things together, but with dramatically fewer households with children, travel remains a viable option for more LGBT travelers and one that is still within their household budget.”
For more findings from the “Out Now Business Class Global LGBT Travel Report,” click here.