Will the nation’s most pro-life state ban almost all abortions? It at least will pass laws meant to reduce the amount of them.
Senate Bill 6, the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, would outlaw all abortions in Arkansas except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.
Anyone who performs an abortion would be subject to up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. The woman would not be guilty of any criminal offense.
The bill does not prohibit contraceptive measures, drugs or chemicals “administered before the time when a pregnancy could be determined through conventional medical testing.”
Americans United for Life recently named Arkansas the nation’s most pro-life state based on laws and policies. Rapert probably is the state’s most outspoken anti-abortion legislator. The bill has 16 co-sponsors in the Senate along with Rapert, which is one vote short of the 18-vote majority it would need for outright passage there. In the House, there are 27 co-sponsors in a chamber with 100 members.
Abortion has been legal nationally since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973. If Senate Bill 6 becomes law, opponents immediately would sue and almost certainly would win in a lower court.
But that’s the plan. Rapert is hoping to create a case that eventually would lead to the U.S. Supreme Court, where “conservatives” have a 6-3 majority, including the three justices nominated by President Trump.
I put that word in quotation marks because justices don’t always rule in ways people might expect. Justices also would have to consider whether or not to apply a precedent-based legal principle known as “stare decisis,” which means a law is settled.
We don’t know how a 6-3 Supreme Court would rule on this bill, or even if it would take the case, except we can be sure the three “liberals” would vote no. I’m putting them in quotation marks, too. Well, maybe it should be single quotes.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has not said if he will sign the bill into law. He has a consistent pro-life history and has signed every pro-life bill that has hit his desk. However, he has said he believes abortion also should be legal in cases of rape and incest, and he questions if the bill will achieve its goals. He said in a statement Tuesday, “A constitutional loss has the potential to set the pro-life movement back and actually reduce the chance of reversing Roe v. Wade.”
Losing the court case would make Roe v. Wade more settled. On the other hand, the Supreme Court won’t stay 6-3 forever. The bill could be amended before it reaches a committee, but Rapert is not the amending type when it comes to abortion.
Regardless of what happens with Senate Bill 6, other pro-life bills might be more likely to win a court case if challenged.
One example is Senate Bill 85 by Sen. Cecille Bledsoe, R-Rogers, which would require abortion providers to display and describe an ultrasound before performing an abortion. The woman would not be required to look at it.
Under House Bill 1195 by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, women at an abortion clinic would be required to make a free phone call to a trained professional who would explain available pregnancy and post-pregnancy services and offer to connect her directly to them.
Dotson told the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee last Thursday that, based on the results of a program in Texas, the bill could reduce Arkansas’ 3,000 annual abortions by a third. Colin LeCroy with the Human Coalition said women in Texas are offered obstetric care, information about signing up for Medicaid, job training, resume development and other services. The state Department of Health would contract with private agencies to provide the counseling. The bill passed the entire House on Monday.
Rapert’s bill seeks virtually no abortions. Bledsoe’s and Dotson’s bills seek fewer abortions. Meanwhile, Bledsoe and Dotson are co-sponsors of Rapert’s bill.
Forty-eight years after Roe v. Wade, Americans are bitterly divided about whether there should be no abortions.
Can we at least agree about having fewer? Not these days, but if it’s a pro-life bill, the most pro-life state’s Legislature usually will vote for it.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist who focuses on Arkansas politics. He is a regular contributor to Talk Business and a frequent panelist on Arkansas PBS’s public affairs show, “Arkansas Week." He publishes a blog, independentarkansas.com . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner .