Board: 3 Arkansas Clinics Violated Abortion Wait-Period Law

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Board of Health has determined that three clinics violated a state law barring them from charging a patient seeking an abortion for related services during the wait period before the procedure.

The board upheld the state Department of Health’s findings in March following inspections of Little Rock Family Planning Services and the Planned Parenthood clinics in Little Rock and Fayetteville, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The board found that the clinics violated a 2015 law that prohibits physicians, facilities, employees or volunteers from charging women for abortion-related services during the 48-hour “reflection period” before the procedure.

The board didn’t impose fines, but the finding enforces a restriction that clinics have said causes them to lose thousands of dollars.

Before the start of the waiting period, the law requires doctors to explain to a patient the potential risk of an abortion, estimate the gestational age of the fetus and describe the “probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child.”

But many women never return after initial visits and don’t end up paying their bills, said Bettina Brownstein, the clinics’ attorney.

“No medical professional in the history of this state has been required to provide mandated medical services for free, and that’s what (state health officials are) doing,” Brownstein said.

The Planned Parenthood clinics lost about $10,960 in revenue between Feb. 1, 2017 and March 22, 2018, from women who had ultrasounds during initial visits but didn’t return for abortions or pay their bills, according to Nathan Johnson, the clinics’ chief financial officer.

At Little Rock Family Planning, just 10 out of 108 patients who had ultrasounds during initial visits, but didn’t return for abortions, had paid their bills as of August, said Lori Williams, the clinic’s director. About $19,600 worth of bills remained unpaid, Williams said.

Republican Rep. Robin Lundstrum, of Elm Springs, said in a letter to the health board that the restriction on collecting money is intended to “ensure no woman feels obligated to have an abortion even if she determines abortion may not be the best choice for her.”

But Brownstein said the restriction puts patients’ privacy at risk because clinics are forced to mail bills to patients.

Brownstein plans to appeal the board’s findings to the Pulaski County Circuit Court.