Health

Lawmaker Whose Adopted Daughter Was Raped Wants To Restrict Abortion For Rape And Incest Victims

CREDIT: AP Photo/Danny Johnston

Arkansas Rep. Justin T. Harris (R)

An Arkansas lawmaker who has recently sparked controversy for giving away his adopted daughter to a man who later sexually abused her is sponsoring legislation to make it harder for young victims to end a pregnancy resulting from abuse.

State Rep. Justin Harris (R) is spearheading HB 1424, which seeks to strengthen his state’s parental consent requirements for minors seeking an abortion. It’s one of a slew of anti-choice restrictions that the Arkansas legislature is currently considering.

Right now, Arkansas residents under the age of 18 can only get an abortion after getting consent from one of their parents. The court system can excuse them from this requirement if they go through what’s a called a judicial bypass procedure. Or, if they became pregnant as a result of incest, rape, or sexual abuse, they can claim an exemption to the law and waive the consent requirement.

Harris’ bill would tighten those requirements, removing the current exemption for victims of sexual crimes — making those minors’ abortion access dependent on permission from parents they may not feel safe confiding in.

HB 1424 would also make the judicial bypass procedure more onerous for teens, allowing the court to mandate that they attend an “evaluation and counseling session with a mental health professional” from the Department of Health without stipulating how soon this session must take place. The bill doesn’t place any time limits on the court’s proceedings, either, which could end up making teens delay an abortion while their petition proceeds slowly.

The Arkansas Times reports that the legislation could actually be unconstitutional because it may go too far to restrict minors’ abortion access.

Harris’ legislation fits into a larger pattern of conservative lawmakers attempting to make the judicial bypass process more difficult. Some states, like Alabama, have gone so far as to allow the courts to appoint a lawyer to represent teen girls’ fetuses, essentially putting young girls on trial to argue their right to end a pregnancy.

Research shows that most teens do talk to their parents before deciding to have an abortion, particularly when they sense that their parents will support them in whatever choice they make. But reproductive rights proponents are worried about the minors who don’t come from supportive homes, and who could actually be putting themselves in danger by disclosing a pregnancy to abusive parents.

Harris himself has recently made national headlines for issues stemming from child abuse. Earlier this month, the Arkansas Times revealed that Harris had “re-homed” two young girls whom he had previously adopted, a controversial practice that is technically legal in the state. After he gave away his adopted daughters, one of them was later sexually abused by one of their new family members. Thanks to an anonymous tip, local police learned the girl had been raped.

According to the Times, the Harrises wanted to re-home their adopted children partially because they thought the girls were possessed by demons — a fringe belief that persists in some right-wing evangelical circles. Harris said he was “devastated and sickened” by the news of his adopted daughter’s abuse; meanwhile, members of the state’s Democratic Party have called for his resignation.

The Arkansas lawmaker has a long history of supporting anti-abortion legislation. In 2013, Harris was one of the primary sponsors of a fetal heartbeat bill that outlawed abortion after just 12 weeks of pregnancy — at the time, the harshest abortion ban any state had ever approved.