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Arkansas Expected to Continue Reproductive-Rights Restrictions

Milwaukie, OR, USA - Aug 20, 2020: The signpost outside the Planned Parenthood Milwaukie-Oak Grove Health Center. Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization that provides reproductive health care.
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More than 20% of all women and nearly half of low-income women ages 15-44 rely on Medicaid and other public health insurance programs for access to contraception and reproductive care.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Biden-Harris administration is expected to roll back federal restrictions on women's reproductive rights that were put in place during the Trump administration. But expert observers say the new makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, and conservative legislatures in states like Arkansas, will hold significant sway.

Arkansas is one of a handful of states with so-called "trigger" laws, poised to immediately ban all or nearly all abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn the case 'Roe v. Wade.' Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute sized up the situation.

"In conservatively controlled states," said Nash, "expect to see more of the same, especially as policymakers anticipate the U.S. Supreme Court will dismantle abortion rights."

This year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson also issued an executive order that included abortion in a list of elective procedures that require patients to have a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of receiving care. The order was challenged by reproductive-rights groups.

And while the spotlight is often on abortion, Nash said access to contraception is also on the radar of state lawmakers.

She said the Trump administration made it easier for employers and schools to deny insurance coverage for contraceptives, and placed new restrictions on the Title Ten national family-planning program.

"Other issues that are potentially on the legislative agendas are policies that allow pharmacists to dispense contraceptives without the patient first getting a prescription," said Nash, "so patients can go directly to the pharmacy for contraceptives, such as the pill, the patch and the ring."

She added that Medicaid is critical for ensuring lower-income women have access to contraception as part of their health coverage. She noted while Arkansas has expanded Medicaid, ongoing legal attacks on the Affordable Care Act could weaken or eliminate the expansion.