Arkansas Senate panel advances near-total ban on abortions


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas Senate panel advanced legislation Wednesday aimed at forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade by banning nearly all abortions, despite concerns from the state’s Republican governor and the attorney for a national anti-abortion group.

The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee endorsed the bill banning all abortions except for those to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency. The bill, which does not include exceptions for rape or incest, now heads to the full Senate.

Arkansas has some of the strictest abortion limits in the country and two years ago passed a law that would ban the procedure if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe decision that legalized abortion. But Republicans, encouraged by former President Donald Trump’s appointments to the U.S. high court, said it’s time to test where the court stands now.

“We want them to annul and do away with the Roe v. Wade decision and to allow Arkansas to protect the lives of unborn children,” Sen. Jason Rapert, the bill’s sponsor, told the panel.

Arkansas is one of 10 states where outright abortion bans have been proposed this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Alabama enacted a near-total ban on abortions in 2019 that’s been blocked because of court challenges.

“We just haven’t seen that many total abortion bans introduced at one time,” Elizabeth Nash, policy analyst for the institute, said. “It feels like the motivation is to adopt laws that will be challenged as a way to put abortion back before the U.S. Supreme Court.”

That approach, however, is drawing unlikely resistance from fellow Republicans and abortion opponents. In a letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the general counsel for National Right to Life called the chances of Rapert’s measure leading to Roe being overturned “very small and remote.”

James Bopp suggested in the letter that it could actually have the reverse effect and said a more effective strategy would to be focus on more incremental restrictions.

“In fact, trying to force an overruling of Roe without adequate incremental preparation risks actually pushing justices away from openness to overruling Roe,” he wrote.

Bopp told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which first reported the letter Wednesday morning, that he was expressing his personal legal view and that the committee hadn’t taken a position on Arkansas’ legislation.

Hutchinson said he’s shared the letter with Rapert and others, but stopped short of saying whether he opposes the bill. The Republican governor has signed several abortion restrictions since taking office in 2015, including the trigger ban two years ago and an 18-week ban that’s on hold because of court challenges.

“I will continue to study the issue, but I have a number of concerns with SB6,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

Rapert in response has rolled out support from the state’s biggest abortion opponents such as Arkansas Right to Life, the national committee’s state affiliate. Other supporters include former Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Arkansas Family Council, which has backed previous abortion bans.

“This is an opportunity for Arkansas to be a real leader in the effort to end abortion in America,” Jerry Cox, Family Council’s president, said in a statement.

Abortion rights supporters say they’re prepared to challenge the latest ban in court if it becomes law.

“Arkansas has some of the strictest regulation, oversight, and hurdles in the nation and the Arkansas General Assembly needs to take some proactive, not regressive, action for Arkansans,” Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said in an email.

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