A bill that would ban all abortions in the state with few exceptions will now go to the Arkansas Senate floor after a committee voted to advance it Wednesday.
Under Senate Bill 6, a person is not allowed to perform an abortion under any circumstance unless it is to "save the life or preserve the health of the child, remove a dead unborn child caused by spontaneous abortion or remove an ectopic pregnancy."
There are no exceptions listed in the legislation for instances of rape or incest.
The bill also states that anyone who performs an abortion or attempts to perform an abortion outside of the limited exceptions could be fined up to $100,000, face up to 10 years in prison or could face both fines and prison time.
The Senate Public Health, Labor and Welfare committee, which has all Republican members, voted to advance the bill by a voice vote. Of the Senate committee members, all but one are co-sponsors of the legislation.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, spoke at a news conference earlier in the day calling Arkansas the most "pro-life" state in the nation.
"We are leaders in the protection of unborn children, and I think today we should be united in taking a stand for life to stop a crime against humanity," Rapert said.
He also pointed out that the state’s current safe haven laws would remove "all burden of childcare" from those who do not want to keep or raise a child.
"So in this situation with this bill, if someone feels that they cannot care for the baby, or maybe they don’t want the baby, they don’t have to abort the baby. We’ll gladly take care of the baby in our state. We’ve already set that up," Rapert said.
The committee also passed a motion to limit debate to five minutes per side, meaning only 10 minutes were spent hearing from citizens for and against the legislation.
While the chairperson of the committee, Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers said the motion to limit debate was due to the inclement winter weather, the committee was the only one in the entire Arkansas legislature to meet after both the House and Senate adjourned. All others cancelled their meetings because of the weather.
Because of the motion to limit time hearing from the public, only four people were able to speak in favor of the bill, while two spoke against it.
Karen Music with the Arkansas Abortion Support Network spoke in opposition to the legislation.
"The thirty-some abortion bills that Senator Rapert speaks of have done nothing but make abortion more difficult in Arkansas. But people still have abortions: Republicans, Democrats, home-schoolers. Why? Because they need them," Music said.
She told members of the committee the bill would not stop abortions from happening in the state.
"We know what works to reduce abortion. What works to reduce abortion is quality, age-appropriate sex education and high quality birth control. If you want to reduce abortion, why not work with some of the organizations like ours that actually help women," Music said.
She also admonished the committee for limiting debate, calling the action "unfair" to those who had traveled to speak on it.
The bill now advances to the Senate floor to be considered by the entire chamber.