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Revised ballot language submitted for measure to restore abortion rights in Arkansas

Ballot themes on ballots this November include marijuana, elections, education, guns, tobacco, minimum wage and the death penalty.
Meg Kelly
/
NPR
Supporters of a constitutional amendment to restore a limited right to abortion in Arkansas submitted an updated proposal to state Attorney General Tim Griffin Monday.

Supporters of a constitutional amendment to restore a limited right to abortion in Arkansas submitted an updated proposal to state Attorney General Tim Griffin Monday.

Griffin rejected ballot language for the initial proposal in November, saying several details needed clarity or other improvements.

Arkansans for Limited Government, a ballot question committee advocating for the passage of the amendment, sought feedback from legal and medical experts and collaborated with the amendment’s drafter for the proposal’s second iteration, according to a press release.

“We’re confident that the language in this resubmission addresses all of the Attorney General’s concerns as well as input from healthcare providers and seasoned legal minds,” ALG Treasurer Jim McHugh said.

The updated proposal would not allow government entities to “prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion services within 18 weeks of fertilization.” The proposal would also permit abortion services in cases of rape, incest, a fatal fetal anomaly or to “protect the pregnant female’s life or physical health.”

Abortion is illegal in Arkansas except to save the life of a pregnant person in a “medical emergency.” The U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022 activated Arkansas’ abortion law.

In a cover letter that was delivered to Griffin with the updated language, Steven Nichols, the Arkansan who submitted the original proposal, said drafters considered the issues raised by the attorney general in his denial and made the following changes:

The popular name was changed to The Arkansas Abortion Amendment to avoid concern of partisan coloring and misleading language.

“Conception” was replaced with “fertilization,” which is also defined.

  • The proposal was reworded to clarify the initiative’s intent regarding the term “access.” Instead, this submission uses the term “abortion services,” which is defined.
  • Defining the health exception to cover only physical health.
  • Section 2 of the original draft was struck entirely to cure potential internal contradiction and redundancy.
  • The definition of “fatal fetal anomaly” was amended to attempt to provide clarity.
  • Section 4 was added to address how the proposal relates to Amendment 68 of the state Constitution.
  • A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said Griffin’s response is due by the close of business on Jan. 4.

If Griffin approves the updated proposal, supporters must then collect 90,704 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the 2024 ballot.

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.