Trying to get an abortion in Arkansas? Bring your medical history.
On Wednesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law a bill ostensibly designed to prevent what’s called “sex-selection abortions,” when parents choose to abort a fetus because it’s not the sex they prefer. However, buried in that law is one important claus: Doctors must demand partial medical histories from women seeking abortions.
Before performing the procedure, Arkansas doctors are now required to ask pregnant women if they know their fetus’s gender. If a woman says yes, the doctor must then request the woman’s medical history “relating directly to the entire pregnancy history of the woman.” And then that woman can’t get an abortion until “reasonable time and effort is spent” trying to obtain her history.
Arkansas is the first state to require such an investigation, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“Health care providers should never be forced to investigate patients for the reasons behind their personal, private decisions,” said Lourdes Rivera, senior vice president of U.S. Programs at the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “When a woman has made the decision to end a pregnancy, she needs high-quality health care, not an interrogation.”
Arkansas is not the only state that outlaws abortion on the basis of a fetus’s sex; seven other states currently have similar policies in effect, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive policies. However, researchers have found that there likely aren’t too many sex-selection abortions happening in the United States.
Intriguingly, the Arkansas law implies that it seeks to limit discrimination against women. In its opening lines, the bill points out that sex-selection abortions are generally used to abort female fetuses, and that it’s “undesirable to have a distortion in the sex ratio within a society, particularly when there is a shortage of women.”
As of July 2015, Arkansas’s population was 50.9 percent female, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In any case, researchers say, sex-selection abortions aren’t necessarily responsible for distorted gender ratios. Because there are multiple ways to ensure a fetus is a certain gender — for instance, parents are legally able to choose a fetus’s sex during in-vitro fertilization — it’s impossible to pinpoint why there might be more male babies born than female.
So far this year, Arkansas has also outlawed dilation and evacuation, or D&E, abortions, which are generally seen as the safest way to abort a second-trimester pregnancy. Plus, the state now mandates that doctors tell women seeking abortions that the procedure can be reversed. That claim is scientifically unsubstantiated and rejected by the mainstream medical community.
The law on sex-selection abortions is set to go into effect on January 1, 2018.