Arkansas Governor Signs Into Law A Near-Total Abortion Ban

The legislation prohibits abortion in the state unless a pregnancy poses a risk to the mother's life. A legal challenge to the bill is virtually certain.
Governor Asa Hutchinson
Governor Asa Hutchinson

US Governor Asa Hutchinson has signed a legally dubious ban on nearly all abortions in Arkansas, where the procedure is already extremely difficult for women to access.

The new law outlaws abortion except in cases where the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s life, making it one of the most restrictive such measures in the US. It makes no exceptions for patients pregnant through rape or incest ― an omission that even Hutchinson once said concerned him.

The governor cited his “long-held pro-life convictions” as his reason for signing the bill into law on Tuesday. He added that he would have “preferred” legislation with exceptions for rape and incest but decided to sign it anyway.

Like most other recent attempts at extreme abortion bans, the legislation is expected to face legal challenges from pro-choice advocacy groups before it can go into effect. But that’s exactly what proponents of the ban want: to force the US Supreme Court, newly loaded with conservative justices appointed by former President Donald Trump, to revisit the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s nationwide right to access abortion.

“It’s time for [Roe v. Wade] to be overturned in the Supreme Court,” state representative Mary Bentley, one of the bill’s sponsors, said when the Arkansas House passed the measure.

The law, Hutchinson admitted Tuesday, “is in contradiction of binding precedents of the US Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law.”

Planned Parenthood activists in Arkansas called that effort “cynical” and slammed state lawmakers for ignoring real public health issues facing the state.

“Despite the fact that Arkansas has the fourth-highest maternal mortality rate in the nation and has one of the highest recorded infant mortality rates, anti-abortion politicians are ramming through this flawed and dangerous legislation,” Gloria Pedro, an official with Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said when the House approved the bill.

Arkansas already has several extreme abortion restrictions on the books, including a ban in most cases after a pregnancy’s 20th week, forced counselling and wait periods, limits on how patients can pay for the procedure and parental consent requirements for minors. As of 2017, Arkansas had only four clinics providing abortions, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute that tracks such figures.

The Arkansas bill is one of hundreds of anti-abortion measures that have been making their way through many state legislatures. During January and February, 384 anti-abortion bills were introduced.

“While the number of bills we are seeing now is in keeping with recent years, the difference is that the bills have become more extreme,” Elisabeth Smith, the chief counsel for state policy at the Center for Reproductive Rights,” told HuffPost last month. “Many states are introducing outright abortion bans.”


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