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If you want an abortion in Arkansas, state lawmakers have a number they’d like you to call. In fact, they have a number that they’d like to legally force you to call.
On Thursday, the Arkansas state Legislature—which is dominated by Republicans—passed a measure that would legally require people who want an abortion to call a toll-free hotline before undergoing the procedure. When they call, they’ll learn about resources that will be available to them if they stay pregnant.
The hotline will also be used to create a database about abortion patients, including whether they survived sexual assault. The database is meant to be “secure,” in the words of the bill, and should not contain personally identifiable information.
The hotline is not able to refer people to abortion providers or “take any other action that directly or indirectly advises a woman to obtain or assists a woman in obtaining an abortion,” according to the bill, which was introduced by Republican state Rep. Jim Dotson. And if an abortion provider doesn’t verify that a patient called the hotline, they could face a $5,000 fine.
"The idea with this is that you're empowering women in order to be able to make the choice to not have an abortion," state Sen. Bob Ballinger, a Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors, said ahead of the vote, according to CBS News.
All this is not a cheap proposition: Last week, Arkansas health department officials told a legislative committee that the hotline program could likely cost between $4 million and $5 million. And the legislation doesn’t include any money to fund the hotline—or, for that matter, any additional money for expanding services for pregnant people and parents.
Twenty-nine states have laws that detail the exact information that someone who wants an abortion must receive before undergoing the procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion restrictions. Arkansas is already one of them. Not only does the state require that would-be abortion patients be informed about “abortion reversal”—an unproven method that tries to halt a medication-induced abortion midway through—but it also requires that patients make two in-person trips to a clinic, with a 72-hour waiting period in between.
Anti-abortion state legislators will frequently use these sorts of counseling laws to force abortion providers to tell patients medically inaccurate or misleading information.
The hotline measure is now headed to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk. Hutchinson, a Republican, has long been a reliable anti-abortion advocate. In 2019, he signed into law a bill that would ban abortion 18 weeks into pregnancy—which was promptly blocked by the courts. If Hutchinson signs the hotline bill, a number must be created by 2023.