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Arkansas health official resigns over abortion clinic vote

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas Board of Health member has resigned and raised concerns about conflicts of interest after the panel sided with the state Department of Health over a fee issue involving clinics offering abortions.

Robbie Thomas-Knight’s resignation comes after the board sided with the health department in its October decision regarding clinics in Little Rock and Fayetteville. The board ruled that three clinics violated a state law barring them from charging a patient seeking an abortion for related services during the wait period before the procedure.

Thomas-Knight wrote in her Dec. 27 resignation letter that the board’s decision was made “without a fair discussion or hearing” and “appeared to be motivated by punishment of the facility for the legal services they provided,” The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported .

Thomas-Knight also noted that the board includes state Department of Health employees, which she said could be a conflict of interest.

“I’ve never been on a board where employees and the director have a vote,” Thomas-Knight wrote. “Regardless of good intentions, this appears to be a conflict of interest and is not in the best interests or the health of the citizens of Arkansas.”

Health Department Director Nate Smith said he stresses that board members who are also employed by the department are free to vote how they wish. He said that while board members can choose to abstain from voting on issues that involve the department, the issues overlap in many instances.

The board didn’t impose fines on the clinics, but the finding enforces a restriction that clinics have said causes them to lose thousands of dollars.

The clinics have appealed the board’s finding.

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