Often, the political landscape is marked by distant rumblings that easily can be ignored. Occasionally, there’s a tremor that jolts but then is forgotten. And then sometimes, the ground shifts.
That’s what happened Friday, when the U.S. Supreme Court released its expected ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
In Arkansas, the ruling triggered Act 180 of 2019, otherwise known as the Arkansas Human Life Protection Act. It outlawed all abortions except those to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency, which it defines as being “endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.”
The law allows for the removal of ectopic pregnancies, where the fertilized egg implants in a location other than the uterus, as well as the removal of a dead unborn child. It does not provide exceptions for rape or incest.
An abortion provider, but not the pregnant woman, can be charged with a felony. The penalties are up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
The law allows the use of contraceptives that would be “administered before the time when a pregnancy could be determined through conventional medical testing.”
That would seem to allow for the so-called “morning after pill,” but I’m not a lawyer. Expect court cases.
In 2021, there were 3,133 abortions in Arkansas, according to the Department of Health. Of those, 107 involved pregnant females under age 18.
Abortion is or will be illegal in all of Arkansas’ surrounding states. For a surgical abortion, a woman would need to travel to Kansas, where it’s still legal for now, or Illinois, where it will remain legal.
The act specifies that it would go into effect when the attorney general certifies the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade. On Friday, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge choked back tears as she announced she was doing so.
Rutledge, who was 42 when she gave birth to her daughter, said that “as the first woman ever elected attorney general, and as someone who it took a long time for God to decide that it was time for me to be a mom, I can’t wait for other women across Arkansas to have that same joy of seeing their child’s face that maybe they would not have seen had it not been for today’s decision.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson noted that opponents still can challenge Arkansas’ abortion laws, but not on the basis that abortion is a constitutional right. The presumption will be that a regulation is appropriate if it has a rational basis.
Hutchinson signed Act 180 into law even though he preferred the rape and incest exceptions be included. He told reporters he would not ask lawmakers to reconsider those exceptions when he calls them into special session this summer to vote on tax cuts.
Likewise, Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, said he had been part of no discussions regarding further legislation. “As far as I’m concerned, the law is settled on this point,” he said.
The Legislature in 2021 provided one-time funding of $1 million to pregnancy resource centers that provide services to pregnant women while encouraging them not to seek abortions.
Jerry Cox, president of the pro-life group Family Council, said his group in 2023 will seek to make funding permanent and will try to increase it to as much as $5 million annually.
What about the electoral politics of all this? Midterm elections are often determined nationally by which voters are the maddest, which is usually those whose presidential candidate lost two years earlier. This has been expected to be a very good year for Republicans, especially in U.S. House races.
But now everybody’s mad – about abortion, guns and gun control, the price of gasoline and everything in the store – and they’re mad at people who disagree with them. This could be a high turnout election with motivated voters from both sides, and there aren’t many swing states or districts left.
We’ll see what happens. The Supreme Court’s ruling is the biggest political story so far in a year when there have been a lot of them. It’s June, but the ground won’t be settled by November.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 17 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.