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Arkansas House Committee Advances Abortion Ban, Governor Won't Say If He'll Sign

Arkansas House

The Arkansas General Assembly is one vote away from passing a bill that would ban all abortions in the state with few exceptions. However, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson is expressing some reservations about the legislation and not saying whether he would sign it into law.

By a voice vote Tuesday, the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee advanced Senate Bill 6, known as the "Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act."

According to the legislation, all abortions in the state would be banned except to "save the life or preserve the health of the unborn child." The bill also allows for abortions to remove ectopic pregnancies and to remove a dead fetus caused by a "spontaneous abortion." There are no exceptions for instances of rape or incest.

When the Arkansas Senate passed the bill in late February, a few pro-life lawmakers requested to add an amendment that would include abortions due to instances rape and incest as exceptions. The amendment was ultimately not added.

Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, presented the bill Tuesday to the committee, saying one of its main purposes is to bring it to the nation’s highest court, which in the past year has shifted more conservatively with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"It is time for the United States Supreme Court to readdress and correct the grave injustice and the crime against humanity which is being perpetrated by its decision in Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton and Planned Parenthood v. Casey," Bentley said.

Bentley said she hoped Arkansas would be the "start to the end of abortion in America."

Speaking against the bill, Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, called it "draconian."

"Even if you’re pro-life, this is a pretty extreme pro-life bill. Most people want exceptions for rape and incest," Ferguson said. 

17 witnesses spoke on the legislation before committee members.  Six spoke for the bill, while 11 spoke against it. Sen. Jason Rapert, R- Conway, one of the bill’s sponsors, spoke in its favor.

"We’ve allowed a situation to develop and a mentality based upon lies that these babies are not human beings. It’s resulted in 62 million deaths in this nation, innocent little babies. All I would ask you to do is do what’s natural. Stand for life," Rapert said.

Ali Taylor, co-founder of the Arkansas Abortion Support Network, spoke against the legislation.

"Banning abortion doesn’t end it. Banning abortion only makes it unsafe," Taylor said. "Really, trying to ban abortion in the state ranked 47th in maternal mortality seems extra punitive and cruel."

The bill now goes to the full House for a vote. If passed, it would go to Gov. Hutchinson, who was asked about the bill Tuesday. He did not say whether he would sign the legislation into law.

"I’ve always historically signed every pro-life bill that’s come to my desk. This one has caused some pause because it’s a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. It does not include rape and incest as exceptions. But I want to look that over, look at the prospects of it and then make a decision," Hutchinson said. 

Sarah Kellogg was a Politics and Government reporter for KUAR from November 2018- August 2021.
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