Arkansas women may soon be forced to notify their sexual partner or family members if they want to have an abortion, thanks to a provision passed in the state’s 2017 legislative session. H.B. 1566, the Tissue Disposal Mandate, would make it illegal for a woman to have an abortion without communicating with the man who impregnated her — whether that be her husband, boyfriend, a casual hook-up, or a perpetrator of sexual assault.
The new provision is linked to the state’s preexisting Final Disposition Rights Act of 2009. According to that law, family members related to the deceased person have say over what happens to the body.
Under the new provision, embryonic or fetal tissue from an abortion would be considered a “deceased” family member. As such, the woman and father of the fetus have equal say over its disposal. A teenage girl seeking an abortion would have no say because, legally, she would have to be at least 18 to exercise final disposition rights over the tissue. If the girl and her sexual partner are minors, their parents would make the decision. If he is 18 and she is a minor, he has final say.
“What’s most detrimental about this is that they just tied it into an existing Arkansas law that talks about disposing of human remains of any person who is deceased. And that law gets very specific on who has the right to consent,” says Lori Williams, Clinic Director of Little Rock Family Planning Services, one of three abortion providers in the state. “Many of the patients do not wish to involve their partner in the decision to terminate a pregnancy.”
Under current Arkansas law, the physician can dispose of the embryonic or fetal tissue following a surgical abortion or miscarriage through incineration or other means, while women who opt for a medical abortion can dispose of the tissue at home. Under the new provision, physicians will face criminal penalties if they fail to notify the woman’s sexual partner about how he wants to dispose of the tissue.
“He was there at conception so he ought to be there through the whole process,” Republican Representative Kim Hammer, the bill’s primary sponsor, tells Bustle. “I think that all life, from conception through birth and right up through death by natural causes, needs to be treated with dignity, respect, and also a unified approach to deal with the remains.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arkansas, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in June, Hopkins v. Jegley, challenging the provision, along with three other measures that they say jeopardize women’s reproductive rights in the state. Talcott Camp, deputy director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU, says that the involved parties filed a motion requesting the judge to block enforcement of the law while the case is pending.