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Arkansas lawmakers OK bill requiring women to call a hotline before having an abortion

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Little Rock, Arkansas — Arkansas lawmakers on Thursday voted to require women seeking an abortion to call a hotline before they can undergo the procedure.

The Senate voted 28-5 for the measure, one of several abortion restrictions that have been filed in the majority-Republican Legislature. The House-backed measure now heads to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The measure requires the state to set up a toll-free number that women can call with information on services available if they decide to not have an abortion. The Department of Health has said it will cost $175,000 to set up the hotline and $4.8 million to operate it annually, though sponsors of the measure have estimated it would cost less based on similar programs in other states.

"The idea with this is that you're empowering women in order to be able to make the choice to not have an abortion," Republican Sen. Bob Ballinger said before the vote.

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Arkansas Republican state Representative Bob Ballinger at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock in July 2015.  Danny Johnston / AP

Abortion rights supporters said the measure will make it harder for women by creating a new obstacle before making their own decisions about their health.

"These continuing and demeaning attempts to shame people for their personal medical decisions and block them from care are backward motions that hurt Arkansans," Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said in a statement.

The proposal does not include additional funding for the hotline program, which would be required to be set up by 2023. Doctors who perform an abortion without verifying the woman has undergone the counseling could face a $5,000 fine, and the measure requires the state to audit facilities' records to ensure compliance.

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