Bill would ban abortion coverage through health care exchange


LITTLE ROCK — Insurers would be prohibited from providing abortion coverage in policies offered through Arkansas’ health insurance exchange under a bill filed Tuesday.

Other legislation filed Tuesday would require medical professionals to report suspected abuse of a fetus, would require a study of public school readiness and ability to respond to violence on campus and would allow cities and county to call elections for Sunday alcohol sales.

House Bill 1100 by Rep. Butch Wilkins, R-Bono, would prohibit insurers from offering coverage for elective abortions through the state’s health insurance exchange except through a separate rider on the policy with a separate premium.

Also under the bill, Arkansans using the insurance exchange who purchase abortion coverage through a separate rider could not be offered a discount for doing so.

The measure defines elective abortion as abortion for any reason other than to prevent the death of the mother, and would not apply in a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.

“It won’t stop anybody from having an abortion, but it does stop taxpayer money from being used,” Wilkins said. “If they want to have it, pay for it. I don’t think public funds should be used for that purpose.”

Wilkins said similar measures have passed in 17 states. He also said his bill was not part of a larger abortion package, although he attended a news conference last week at the Capitol at which Arkansas Right to Life unveiled its anti-abortion legislative package and named the sponsors of the measures, including Wilkins.

Also filed Tuesday, HB 1098 by Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, would modify the definition of the term child or juvenile under the Arkansas Child Maltreatment Act to mean “from the time a fetal heartbeat can be detected.” Currently, the definition covers an individual from birth to 18 years of age.

Under the bill, a medical professional involved in the care of a pregnant woman would be required to contact the state’s child abuse hotline regarding suspected abuse of an unborn child, and the hotline would be required to accept a report of abuse of an unborn child if the reporter is a medical professional.

The term “abuse” would be limited to abuse defined in Ark. Code 12-18-103(2)(A)(vii) (f) and (g):

• Giving a child or permitting a child to consume or inhale a poisonous or noxious substance not prescribed by a physician that has the capacity to interfere with normal physiological functions.

• Giving a child or permitting a child to consume or inhale a substance not prescribed by a physician that has the capacity to alter the mood of the child, including, but not limited to marijuana, alcohol or a narcotic.

The bill would establish an affirmative defense to prosecution that an expectant mother is not aware that she is pregnant or has been advised by a medical professional that a substance is safe to consume during pregnancy.

Senate Bill 93 by Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, would require the Legislative Council to conduct, or enlist the Senate Education Committee to conduct, a study of public school facilities, personnel and policies to determine the readiness and capabilities of public schools to prevent and respond adequately to acts of violence against students and school personnel on campus.

The bill sets a Sept. 1, 2014, deadline for the Legislative Council or the education panel to report its findings and recommendations to the House and Senate education committees.

HB 1108 by Rep. Mary Broadaway, D-Paragould, would allow a city council or quorum court to pass an ordinance calling for an election to determine whether to make Sunday alcohol sales legal in the city or county.

Current law allows such an election to be called only if petitions are submitted containing a number of signatures equal to 15 percent of the vote cast for governor in that city or county in the most recent general election in which the governor’s race appeared on the ballot.