Arkansas Passes Near-Total Abortion Ban Lawmakers Hope Will Lead to Overturn of Roe v. Wade

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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson speaks during a news conference held by the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Washington, D.C., December 21, 2012. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters )

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday signed into law a near total ban on abortion, a measure supporters hope will force the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.

Senate Bill 6 allows abortions to be performed only in the event that it would save the life or preserve the health of the mother. It does not allow abortions for those impregnated in an act of rape or incest.

Hutchinson, who had previously expressed reservations about the bill, said he was signing it because of its “overwhelming legislative support and my sincere and long-held pro-life convictions.” 

“SB6 is in contradiction of binding precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “I would have preferred the legislation to include the exceptions for rape and incest, which has been my consistent view, and such exceptions would increase the chances for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Arkansas is one of at least 14 states where legislators have proposed abortion bans this year as conservatives hope the high court will be more amenable to overturning the Roe v. Wade decision as it now has a conservative majority after former President Donald Trump nominated three judges to the court.

Other states that have attempted to enact similar sweeping abortion bans, including South Carolina and Alabama, have had their legislation quickly blocked by court challenges.

“We must abolish abortion in this nation just as we abolished slavery in the 19th century – all lives matter,” said State Senator Jason Rapert, the bill’s sponsor. 

However, an attorney for pro-life group National Right to Life wrote in a letter shared with lawmakers before the bill’s passing that the odds of the bill leading to Roe being overturned were “very small and remote.”

The legislation does not take effect until 90 days after the legislature adjourns this year’s session, which means it will not be enforceable until the summer, at least.

Abortion rights supporters have vowed to challenge the ban in court before it takes effect.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas criticized the ban as  “cruel and unconstitutional.”

“Governor Hutchinson: we’ll see you in court,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said.

“This is politics at its very worst,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “At a time when people need economic relief and basic safety precautions, dismantling abortion access is cruel, dangerous, and blatantly unjust.”

Arkansas is one of the most pro-life states in the country: the state Senate on Monday approved a measure that would require a woman having an abortion to be shown an ultrasound before the procedure.

Hutchinson also signed a measure in 2019 banning abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy. However, that legislation is on hold because of a legal challenge.

The governor signed a measure two years ago that would ban abortion in the event that Roe is overturned.

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