Arkansas law will force doctors to investigate abortion patients

It’s an unprecedented move.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
CREDIT: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

A new law in Arkansas will force doctors to investigate their patients’ medical records before providing them with a legal abortion — and represents the first provision of its kind across the country.

Signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on Wednesday, HB 1434 is broadly focused on policing the reasons that people may seek abortion care.

HB 1434 makes it illegal to have an abortion based on whether the fetus is a boy or girl, requiring doctors to interrogate patients about the sex of their fetus before performing the procedure. This fits into a larger anti-abortion strategy misleadingly framed in terms of women’s rights. Even though there’s no evidence that patients in the U.S. are more likely to abort female fetuses, seven states have banned “sex-selective abortions” anyway.

And one particularly concerning provision of HB 1434 goes even further, requiring doctors to spend an unspecified amount of time investigating an abortion patient’s background. Under the new law, the abortion procedure may not move forward “until reasonable time and effort is spent to obtain the medical records of the pregnant woman.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization that litigates anti-abortion laws across the country, interprets this medical records requirement as an attempt “to investigate the woman’s motives for ending her pregnancy.”

“Health care providers should never be forced to investigate patients for the reasons behind their personal, private decisions,” Lourdes Rivera, the senior vice president for U.S. programs at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “When a woman has made the decision to end a pregnancy, she needs high-quality health care, not an interrogation.”

Because of HB 1434’s vague wording, it’s unclear how much investigation is sufficient to fulfill the legislation’s requirements. The law could end up functioning as an indefinite waiting period as patients are forced to put off their procedure until their doctor concludes the investigation.

While some other states already have sex-selection abortion bans on the books, Arkansas’ new medical records requirement is unique.

“No other state requires providers ask these questions or to review medical records. This law is a real invasion of the woman’s privacy,” Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that tracks anti-abortion legislation, told the Associated Press.

HB 1434 is set to take effect next January. The American Civil Liberties Union plans to challenge the new law in court.