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Arkansas's Women Deserve Respect

Without the care that Planned Parenthood health centers provide -- Pap tests, well-woman exams, STD testing and treatment, and breast exams -- the health of our mothers, daughters, sisters and wives will suffer.
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For two decades, I had the honor and privilege of representing my home State of Arkansas in the United States Congress. Through that time, despite the vast array of opinions, backgrounds and beliefs represented by the people of our great state, their shared priorities remained clearly focused on the issue that impact their families the most: growing jobs, supporting education, tackling poverty, and protecting access to affordable health care. That remains true today. Another truth is that Arkansans -- like the majority of Americans -- understand and respect a woman's constitutional right to make deeply personal and often complex health care decisions without the interference of politicians and in an environment that feels most comfortable to her.

By now, you've seen the headlines. The new Republican-controlled Arkansas State Senate have focused like a laser -- not on creating jobs or expanding opportunity -- but on banning abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood.

Their playbook is really quite simple: First, pass the nation's most extreme early abortion ban over the veto of the governor and with guaranteed litigation costs to the State with the ACLU of Arkansas saying they'll challenge the unconstitutional law in federal court. Second, the day after it passes, introduce an extreme bill designed to defund Planned Parenthood on the backs of Arkansas women who rely on the nonprofit for a wide-range of affordable preventive health care.

What's clear -- this is not what Arkansans want and certainly not what they need. These attacks on women's health are so unpopular that it brought Arkansans to the streets of Little Rock and the State Capitol last month to demand better from their state legislators.

The extreme Arkansas abortion ban is in clear violation of a woman's constitutional right to safe and legal abortion and, if enforced, would outlaw the procedure before a woman may have important information about her health or the health of her pregnancy. Further, the Arkansas defunding bill is so extreme it would restrict all funds passing through the State from Planned Parenthood's nonprofit health centers in Arkansas. These centers are serving a critical role in our State's health care system and provide an array of services to the working poor that would otherwise be ignored. Withholding funding from Planned Parenthood could have a detrimental effect on their services and education programs, which in turn would have an enormously detrimental impact on the health of our State.

One in five of America's women have turned to Planned Parenthood at some point in her life -- not to make political statements but to get high quality, affordable health care. Without the care that Planned Parenthood health centers provide -- Pap tests, well-woman exams, STD testing and treatment, and breast exams -- the health of our mothers, daughters, sisters and wives will suffer.

Most immediately, the bill would end an important teen health education prevention program in Little Rock at a time when Arkansas's teen birth rate ranks third in the nation because less than three percent of Planned Parenthood's health services in Arkansas happen to be abortion related. But the bill goes further by blocking State funding from any health care provider or organization that merely provides information to a woman about abortion services. Think about it: A rape crisis center could lose funding if, tragically, a woman became pregnant after an assault and sought counsel about where to go for a safe and legal medical procedure.

This is not just bad policy, this is also bad politics. While the National Republican Party leadership has been doing a lot of talking these days about fine-tuning their tactics in order to win votes in 2014, Republican leadership in Arkansas is taking the exact opposite course and proving to be more extreme than any other State in the country. Arkansas deserves better than this divisive agenda that will only lead to costly, lengthy litigation and diminished health care for our women and families.