The 2005 legislative session will see a resumption of a 2003 fight between anti-abortionists and abortion-rights advocates over a bill requiring parental consent before an abortion can be performed on a minor. The bill actually passed both houses in 2003, but the Senate amended it slightly, and the legislators adjourned before the House could concur in the amendment.
Existing law requires that notice be given to at least one parent (or guardian) 48 hours before an abortion is performed on a minor. HB 1033 requires that written, notarized consent be obtained from a parent or guardian before an abortion is performed on a minor.
Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, the lead sponsor of the bill, said that 20 states have adopted consent statutes and that such laws have been upheld in the courts.
“If we require parental consent before a child is given aspirin or goes on a field trip, parents certainly should have a say in abortion,” Hutchinson said. Existing law allows a judge to grant an exception to the parental-notice requirement. HB 1033 contains a similar provision allowing a judge to make an exception to the consent requirement. The problem with these “judicial bypass” provisions, according to opponents, is that it’s often difficult to find a judge who’ll grant an exception, especially outside of Pulaski County.
The Arkansas ACLU opposed the parental-consent bill in 2003 and will again, Rita Sklar of Little Rock, executive director of the group, said. “In the first place, it’s unnecessary,” Sklar said. “Most teens talk to their parents. Those who don’t may have good reasons. And they’re some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
Beyond that, she said, “There should be an automatic exception for a teen whose parents have been guilty of abuse or neglect. A child who’s been beaten or starved by a parent shouldn’t have to get that parent’s consent to an abortion.” HB 1033 says that a minor who’s been sexually abused by a parent doesn’t have to obtain that parent’s consent to an abortion, but it makes no exception for other types of abuse or neglect.
The bill also should make an automatic exception for a minor whose health is endangered by her pregnancy, Sklar said. HB 1033 allows an exception to the consent requirement if a physician certifies that an abortion is necessary to prevent the minor’s death, but there is no exception merely to protect her health.
Sklar objected also to the requirement that consent be notarized. “That means the parents will have to go to a notary public, who’ll probably be somebody they know. It’s an extreme invasion of privacy.”
In Arkansas and across the nation, anti-abortion legislators have been chipping away at abortion laws for years, doing what they can to limit abortion without violating the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion — a decision they hope will be overturned by a more conservative Supreme Court. For years, a few Arkansas state senators who were sympathetic to abortion rights managed to block anti-abortion bills in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but by the 2003 session, those senators had been removed by term limits. The 2005 legislature will likely be as inclined against abortion as its predecessor was. One of the new members is Timothy Hutchinson, R-Rogers, twin brother of Jeremy Hutchinson and a co-sponsor of HB 1033. Reps. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, and Carl Rosenbaum Jr., R-Little Rock, are the other sponsors.