Legislation has been sent to Gov. Asa Hutchinson that would ban most abortions in Arkansas if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its landmark Roe v. Wade decision. A spokesman for Hutchinson, J.R. Davis, said via text, "The Governor expects to sign the bill next week."
Final approval of SB149 came after a debate Thursday in the House that at times was tinged with emotion as representatives shared their personal experiences. The vote was 72-20, with eight members not voting.
Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, told his colleagues "I am pro-life, but I’m pro-humanity too. I feel like this bill goes too far."
He spoke of how last summer his niece became pregnant with what she and her husband expected would become their second child.
"She was carrying a little boy and they were so excited and so happy and everything was going good until she went to get her ultrasound."
Douglas said she was told there was not enough amniotic fluid, and that the fetus did not have proper kidneys and no bladder.
"The doctor explained to her that she could carry the child throughout the remainder of the gestation, the entire nine months, and deliver that baby alive into this world. But once it got here, once it was delivered, it would live two to three days, and those two to three days would be miserable, excruciating, agonizing for that baby and for that mother."
Douglas asked Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, who sponsored the legislation in the House, "would this bill prohibit an abortion if that anomaly was detected at age 20 weeks?"
"Yes sir, it would," Bentley responded, "and I can tell you that I worked at [Arkansas] Children’s Hospital for a number of years, I worked there for 10 years, and there’s times that we’d save the lives of children that had heart defects that were there in surgery and there were times that we couldn’t."
Bentley made an argument for faith, saying, "Miracles still happen, and I’ve seen miracles in this hospital too many times." She told the story of a friend with an ill child who prayed for the boy, "and I can tell you that Zachary is a healthy little boy of four-years-old and there’s absolutely no medical reason why Zachary is a healthy boy."
Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, countered with her own experience and suggested many of the lawmakers couldn’t comprehend the circumstances that might lead a woman to choose an abortion.
"I know the Bible verses, I know the emotions. I know more than many of you the intimate feeling of becoming a mother as soon as the pregnancy test turns pink. But I also know the stories of grief and loss," Godfrey said. "I know that this issue is personal and complicated. After my miscarriage in 2011 I walked alongside other women and heard their stories. And you and I can say, ‘I would never’ all day long, but I pray to God that none of us in this room would ever have to make the impossible choices my friends and women across Arkansas have found themselves confronted with."
Exceptions to the abortion ban would not be allowed in cases of rape or incest, only to save the life of the mother.
If signed by the governor as expected, Arkansas would become the fifth state nationwide with a so-called "trigger law" banning abortion if the landmark 1973 ruling is overturned or if the U.S. Constitution is amended to allow states to prohibit abortion.