Feb 1, 2023 - News

Federal moves could increase abortion access in Arkansas

Illustration of a pill with an unlocked padlock top

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The Biden administration is weighing a possible public health emergency declaration that would free up resources to help people access abortions, including in Arkansas, Axios' Oriana Gonzalez writes.

State of play: Abortion is illegal in Arkansas except in cases to save a pregnant person's life, to treat ectopic pregnancies or to remove a fetus with no heartbeat.

  • State Rep. Nicole Clowney (D-Fayetteville) filed a bill last week that would also allow an exception for fetal anomaly incompatible with life, meaning a baby could not live outside the womb. The bill is in committee.

How it works: If the federal government moves forward, states would still be able to limit abortion access. But an emergency declaration "would potentially make it easier for people who need to travel out of state to get abortions or to get abortion medication," said Mary Ziegler, a professor of law at the University of California, Davis, who specializes in abortion issues. "It would make available funding that wouldn't otherwise be there to address those unmet needs."

  • "Providers offering medication abortion as a countermeasure could be shielded from liability and states would be preempted from applying their own laws to the actions of these providers working under a public health emergency," Rachel Rebouché, a professor of law at Temple University, told Ms. Magazine.

The big picture: Both abortion rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers have urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and President Biden to take such a step in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which they say has created a "full-scale reproductive health crisis."

What to watch: HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told Axios on Monday that scientific and professional assessments of whether the country meets the criteria for a public health emergency will guide his decision.

  • Such a declaration would likely be challenged in court.

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