Arkansas obligates doctors to investigate women seeking abortion


Beginning in January 2018, Arkansas will require doctors to investigate their patients' backgrounds before they perform abortions. 

HB 1434, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law Wednesday, is intended to prevent women from preselecting a fetus' sex. It obligates doctors to delve into medical records documenting a woman's "entire pregnancy history," according to a press release from the Center for Reproductive Rights, ostensibly with an eye to discovering whether or not the woman knows the sex of the fetus.

What it really does, according to the CRR, is to postpone the procedure indefinitely: The doctor must spend a sufficient but unspecified amount of "time and effort" looking into a woman's background before granting her an abortion. According to the Associated Press, noncompliant doctors could receive a year in prison along with a $2,500 fine. 

"Health care providers should never be forced to investigate patients for the reasons behind their personal, private decisions," Lourdes Rivera, senior vice president of U.S. Programs at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in the statement.  "When a woman has made the decision to end a pregnancy, she needs high-quality health care, not an interrogation."

Further, the CRR worries that this legislation will disproportionately burden people of color, as abortion restrictions often do

According to the Guttmacher Institute, seven states prohibit abortion on the basis of sex selection. Arkansas, however, retains the dubious distinction of being the first state to take its restrictions this far. No other state in the United States obligates physicians to launch an investigation of their patients.

Danny Johnston/AP

As the CRR pointed out, Hutchinson has already signed three abortion-restrictive bills in the 2017 session. In February, for example, he approved legislation allowing husbands to stop their wives from getting the most common type of second trimester abortion by suing doctors who perform the procedure. That law holds even in cases of spousal rape, and is especially questionable in light of multiple court rulings that keep spouses from interfering with a woman's right to choose. 

American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas executive director Rita Sklar told the AP that Wednesday's attempt at restricting abortion is unconstitutional, and that the ACLU will challenge it in court. 

"The law of the land is that abortion is legal up to the point of viability," Sklar said. "Nobody should pry into the mind of the woman who wants the procedure."