Arkansas lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday to ban public money from paying for abortions in the cases of rape or incest for women who are eligible for public programs like Medicaid.



 

Arkansas lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday to ban public money from paying for abortions in the cases of rape or incest for women who are eligible for public programs like Medicaid.

The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee passed the measure proposed by Republican Sen. Cecile Bledsoe of Rogers. That bill now heads to the Senate for a vote.

Bledsoe's bill would allow public money to fund abortions only when the life of the woman is in danger.

"Women can still get an abortion, but they cannot use public money," Bledsoe told the committee.

A federal amendment — which allows public funds to cover abortions in the cases of rape, incest or a pregnancy that threatens the life of an expectant mother — would likely trump Bledsoe's bill in court, said American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar.

But, if Bledsoe's bill is passed, lengthy lawsuits could tie up public funding for years for women who were impregnated through rape or incest, Sklar said.

"The (federal) amendment will trump this bill in a courtroom," Sklar said. "Not when you go to buy your insurance. Not when you go to the hospital. And not when you're handed a bill to pay for that abortion that you had to have to save your life or for your 13-year-old daughter who was raped by her uncle."

The same public health committee also approved Sen. Jimmy Jeffress's bill that would prohibit the sale of tobacco-less chew to minors.

Jeffress, the Democratic state senator of Crossett who briefly proposed banning pedestrians from wearing headphones while walking or running, says schoolchildren as young as 8 years old are buying herbal snuff to try to imitate adults who use smokeless tobacco.

The Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee also approved a bill that would raise the cap on hospital assessment fees.

Hospitals can currently set aside up to one percent of net patient revenue to attract matching funds for Medicaid. Democratic Sen. Larry Teague's bill would raise that cap to about 5.5 percent. It would not force hospitals, who assess the fee themselves, to set aside the full amount. The bill now heads to the Senate for a vote.