LITTLE ROCK --
Storm refugees in Arkansas who need an abortion can have the procedure done for free at a Little Rock clinic where a doctor has said he has already performed six free of charge and will continue to do so for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Despite protests from an anti-abortion group, Little Rock Family Planning clinic director Dr. Jerry Edwards said he is helping pregnant refugees by offering free abortions because later-term abortions are more dangerous.
"If we didn't provide it now, they would get it later -- a late-term abortion that would give greater risk to the mother's health," Edwards told Little Rock television station KTHV. Edwards' clinic is the only abortion clinic in central Arkansas.
Lori, a clinic employee who declined to give her last name, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Edwards was out of town and not available for comment. She said the clinic was continuing to provide free abortion for hurricane refugees.
Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, called Edwards' offer of his free services to hurricane victims "insensitive" and said he is risking further traumatizing women who have already lost their material belongings in the storm.
"This just adds to the devastation these women already have in their lives," Mimms told The Associated Press. "Some have lost family members. They all have lost property for sure. Taking the lives of unborn children who are survivors of the hurricane is the wrong response."
Mimms said Arkansas Right to Life has started its own drive to help pregnant Katrina survivors in a program called Operation Baby Box, which provides diapers, clothing and other supplies for newborns and their mothers.
Marvin Schwartz, spokesman for Arkansas-Oklahoma Planned Parenthood, said Edwards is providing women with a needed service.
"The timing of the abortion procedure is, of course, extremely critical. The earlier in the pregnancy, the less critical it is. The less critical to the mother, the woman, and the less cost," Schwartz said.
A first-trimester abortion at the Little Rock clinic, if uncomplicated, costs between $525 and $600, the clinic said Tuesday.
Planned Parenthood does not provide abortions but sees Edwards' clinic as a valuable part of women's health needs in central Arkansas and for Katrina refugees now living in the region, Schwartz said.
"Doctor Edwards is doing a humanitarian relief service in his field. Whether you are a homebuilder or a transportation provider, he is among those providing an important function and I commend him for doing so," he said.