LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday signed into law a measure that would impose fines and prison time on doctors who perform abortions that are based solely on whether the mother wants to have a boy or girl.
Under the new law sponsored by Republican Rep. Charlie Collins, a physician performing the abortion would ask the patient if she knows the sex of the child. If she does, the doctor must let her know that it’s illegal to have an abortion based solely on gender.
The physician would then have to request the woman’s medical history related to her entire pregnancy history. Under the legislation, the abortion can’t be performed “until reasonable time and effort is spent to obtain the medical records of the pregnant woman.”
Doctors who violate the ban could face up to a year in prison and up to a $2,500 fine, as well as civil penalties. The woman who receives or attempts to receive the abortion wouldn’t face any criminal charges.
Lourdes Rivera, senior vice president of U.S. programs at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that there shouldn’t be a forced investigation of patients for the reasons behind their private decisions.
“When a woman has made the decision to end a pregnancy, she needs high-quality health care, not an interrogation,” Rivera said.
The Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research center, says a few other states ban abortion for the purpose of gender selection. Those states are Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.
According to Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager with the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, Arkansas’ legislation goes further than that of the other states.
“No other state requires providers ask these questions or to review medical records. This law is a real invasion of the woman’s privacy,” Nash said.
Nash said Oklahoma also requires that women be asked if they are seeking an abortion because of the fetus’ gender, but women can decline to answer and there’s no medical review requirement.
American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas executive director Rita Sklar says the legislation, which would take effect in 2018, is unconstitutional and that the organization plans on legally challenging it.
“The law of the land is that abortion is legal up to the point of viability,” Sklar said. “Nobody should pry into the mind of the woman who wants the procedure.”