From the Arkansas Statehouse...

House Health Committee abdicates reason.

In Legislative Insanity on 10 February 2009 at 5:48 pm

It never ceases to amaze me how certain topics turn otherwise reasonable people into witless lackeys. Such was on display this morning when Rep. Dawn Creekmore ran a bill banning a certain abortion procedure that is rarely performed in the state of Arkansas. The bill went through, but only after a half hour of nonsensical yammering on both sides.

In actual fact, it would be surprising if committee members even knew what they voted to pass. That’s because Rep. Creekmore presented an amendment to the committee at the beginning of her presentation that essentially rewrote the entire bill. (Here’s the original for comparison.) Committee members had no time to digest the new aspects of the measure, which add some form of civil liability for somebody (see below) and clarify that the procedure in question is not illegal if the woman’s health is in danger. All they had time to process of the bill, besides what came out in the very murky discussion, was its title, “An Act to Prohibit Partial-Birth Abortions.”

Rep. Creekmore also conspicuously misrepresented the bill during her presentation: she explicitly told committee members that it outlaws abortions that are performed after the first trimester. Yet the bill contains no such provision. Instead it proscribes a specific abortion method. (The name of the method itself is subject to a partisan language war: either ‘partial birth’ or ‘D & X’ abortion, depending on where you stand.)

The amended bill itself has some very sloppy wording, which suggests that it was hastily assembled for today’s sideshow. To wit, a new passage on civil liability. The updated bill says:

The father, if married to the mother at the time she receives a partial-birth abortion procedure, and if the mother has not attained the age of eighteen years at the time of the abortion, the maternal grandparents of the fetus, may obtain appropriate relief in a civil action, unless the pregnancy resulted from the plaintiff’s criminal conduct or the plaintiff consented to the abortion.

This clause makes somone liable to someone else when a prohibited abortion occurs; but it’s impossible to tell who’s liable to whom. The doctor and the woman don’t appear to be involved. Is this saying grandparents of the aborted child can sue the father if he forced his wife to get an abortion? Or is the plaintiff the father? If so, what would his criminal conduct be? I could go on. Here’s hoping somebody sees fit to clean this up before it gets much farther.

(Read on for more lunacy.)

Though supporters of the bill put in a shameful performance — well, they put in a good performance but a bad show of how to make a law — opponents didn’t fare much better. Two speakers, Holly Dickson of the ACLU and Bonnie Robertson of Planned Parenthood, both became irate to the point that they were frequently difficult to comprehend. Granted, they were thrown for a loop by the last-minute amendment. But they didn’t serve their cause very well by practically cursing the bill’s supporters.

Despite all this, there were a few moments of clarity during the proceeding. Rep. Fred Allen asked Rep. Creekmore why there was an emergency clause attached to the bill, particularly as there are few documented instances of the procedure being performed in Arkansas. Sensible enough. Rep. Creekmore’s terse response was not so much: “That would be a matter of opinion. To me there is an emergency.”

Perhaps the most cogent point of the entire hearing was Robertson’s, though it was lost on most committee members: Rep. Creekmore’s bill would strip a medical judgement from doctors and give it to legislators and judges. Any doctor who felt a woman’s health required the banned procedure would have to perform it in the knowledge that he would have to explain himself before the Arkansas Medical Board and the law.

But this hearing was clearly not about common sense or good legislation. It was about putting on a political spectacle by needlessly stoking a hot-button issue.

Bonus: Notable quote of the hearing was from the generally hilarious and heretofore sensible Rep. Billy Gaskill, in response to Robertson’s insistence that the committee owed opponents a fuller reading of Rep. Creekmore’s fresh amendment: “We owe her nothing when it comes to the baby murder.”

Bonus 2: Rep. Pam Adcock, to the regional director of Planned Parenthood: “How do you know so much about abortion?”

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