Abortion Reporting: Arkansas (2017)

Tessa Longbons  

Arkansas’ abortion report for 2017 was published in June 2018 by the state Department of Health. The 13-page report shows that chemical abortions in the state have risen dramatically.

 

Changes in Arkansas Abortions, 2016-2017

 

*Information on Arkansas’ state abortion rate and Planned Parenthood’s Arkansas market share is not publicly available.

 

Abortion Totals and Trends

 

There were 3,249 abortions performed in Arkansas in 2017, up slightly from the 3,207 reported the previous year but down 41 percent from the total reported in 2000, Arkansas’ earliest report online (Fig. 1). In 2017, chemical abortions made up 28 percent of the state’s total. Chemical abortions rose by 66 percent from 556 in 2016 to 921 in 2017, the highest number ever reported in the state. Since 2003, the first year chemical abortions were reported in Arkansas, chemical abortions have increased by almost 2,400 percent. Arkansas does not report the state abortion rate, but the Charlotte Lozier Institute estimates that the rate was relatively unchanged from 2016 to 2017 at 5.6 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 (Fig. 2).

 

State Report Summary

 

Of the 3,249 abortions reported in Arkansas in 2017, there were 2,877, or 89 percent, performed on Arkansas residents. Women from Tennessee made up the second largest group, undergoing 172 abortions. Sixty-one percent of the women getting abortions were in their twenties, with 11 percent age 19 or younger and 26 percent in their thirties. Only three percent of women were age 40 or older. White women were the largest racial group, accounting for 48 percent of reported abortions. Black women made up 42 percent of the women getting abortions, and women of another race were nine percent.

 

The majority of women who underwent abortions, 86 percent, were unmarried. Thirteen percent were married. Most women had previously given birth, and many had multiple children – 28 percent had one previous live birth, and 37 percent had two or more. Only 35 percent had no previous live births. In contrast, 63 percent had never had an abortion before. Twenty-two percent reported one previous abortion, and 16 percent reported more than one.

 

Most abortions were performed early in pregnancy. Arkansas reports probable post-fertilization age, which measures the pregnancy from the date of conception. Post-fertilization age is usually two weeks less than gestational age, which measures pregnancy from the woman’s last menstrual cycle. In 2017, some 20 percent of abortions were reported at earlier than five weeks post-fertilization (seven weeks gestation). Fifty-four percent occurred between five and eight weeks, and 14 percent were performed between nine and 12 weeks. Six percent were performed between 13 and 15 weeks, while five percent were between 16 and 19 weeks. Just one abortion was reported at 20 weeks post-fertilization, and none was reported after 20 weeks. Arkansas prohibits abortions at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization unless the life or a significant bodily function of the mother is at risk or the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.

 

In Arkansas, parents must provide consent before girls under the age of 18 may obtain abortions. A judge may grant a waiver to the parental consent requirement if the judge deems the girl is mature enough to choose abortion or if the judge believes that the abortion is in the girl’s best interest. Additionally, the parental consent requirement does not apply if the girl is experiencing a medical emergency that threatens her life or a major bodily function. In 2017, parental consent was required in 104 cases – 103 girls were under the age of 18, and one was in her twenties. Arkansas’ parental consent law refers to both minors and “incompetent women,” so it is possible that the woman in her twenties needed consent from a guardian. Parental consent was obtained in 95 cases, and judicial waivers were granted in 11 cases.

 

Arkansas publishes information on its informed consent process in a separate report, which is not directly comparable to the abortion report. Information in the abortion report is provided by physicians who perform abortions, while information in the informed consent report is provided by both abortion providers and by physicians who refer women for abortions. According to the informed consent report, 90 women whose pregnancies had reached 20 weeks of gestation or later (approximately 18 weeks post-fertilization) were told that their babies could feel pain. Some of these women could have decided not to have abortions or could have chosen to get abortions in other states.

 

Chemical Abortion

 

Chemical abortions in Arkansas rose sharply over the past year, but that trend could change in the future. In 2015, Arkansas enacted Act 577 to make chemical abortion safer by requiring abortion providers to contract with doctors who have both admitting privileges and gynecological/surgical privileges at a hospital. This would ensure that women who experience complications from chemical abortions – which have higher complication rates than many other abortion methods – can be admitted quickly to a hospital for treatment. Currently, there are three abortion centers operating in Arkansas, two of which perform only chemical abortions. The two chemical abortion centers, both operated by Planned Parenthood, were unable to find a doctor willing to contract with them. Planned Parenthood sued Arkansas, and the law was temporarily blocked. However, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. In July, Planned Parenthood presented new evidence and received a preliminary injunction preventing the law from taking effect. The state plans to appeal the ruling.

 

State Ranking

 

In a CLI study that evaluated the quality of state abortion reporting, Arkansas’ reports were ranked at 11th place. As the legislature addresses concerns about the risks of abortion and the qualifications of doctors who perform them, the state could make its reports even more useful by collecting and reporting information on complications and abortion providers and facilities. Arkansas could also include information on women’s reasons for undergoing abortions, particularly abortions after 20 weeks. As abortion continues to be a subject of debate in Arkansas, timely, thorough abortion reporting is especially relevant.

 

Fig. 1

 

Fig. 2

 

  1. Arkansas’ abortion data for 2014 were presented in two reports, a report based on gestational age and a report based on probable post-fertilization (PPF) age. Totals were taken from the PPF report.
  2. Arkansas does not report the state abortion rate. Rates were calculated by the Charlotte Lozier Institute using population estimates from the United States Census Bureau. The rates were calculated using the following formula: (total number of abortions performed in Arkansas ÷ number of resident women ages 15-44) x 1,000.

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