Abill that would ban nearly all abortions in Arkansas advanced through the Senate on Monday (Feb. 22) despite pleas for an amendment from GOP lawmakers who wanted exemptions for rape and incest.
SB 6, the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act, will ban abortions in state unless it is to save a mother’s life.
Despite the emotional debate to include exceptions for rape and incest victims, Arkansas senators passed this pro-life, anti-abortion bill along party lines on a 27-7 vote. Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, called out critics who have questioned her pro-life stance.
“I just cannot sit here and be silent on this issue when I am disenfranchising people that are pro-life that believe that rape and incest should be a part of this bill because their loved ones were raped,” said Irvin. “I don’t understand this. It just burns me up and it bothers me, and it just breaks my heart. ”
Irvin pleaded with the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, to pull the bill down and amend it. Rapert did not amend the bill and instead closed on the bill for a vote. Irvin still voted for the measure despite the exemptions not being included.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, who’s known for her stance against anti-abortion bills called this piece of legislation a government overreach.
“We talk all the time about not being in people’s private lives. For me, not to get into your private life does not mean I don’t care about a child,” Elliott said. “For you to respect women enough to allow them to be full autonomous human beings is important to this discussion.”
Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, echoed Elliott’s sentiments.
“Nobody wants to see babies killed, no one. Not I, nor anyone in this room. But I also don’t want to see babies’ lives destroyed because every time I hear people talking about babies getting pregnant, I hear the ages of 12 or 16,” said Chesterfield.
“My niece is 10, she just began her menses, which means then if she would have been a victim of rape or incest, she would be a 10-year-old walking around with a child,” Chesterfield added.
Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, who recently left the GOP to become an independent, highlighted previous pro-life bills Arkansas lawmakers have passed which always included an exception for rape or incest victims, including HB 1439 that was amended and passed two years ago.
HB 1439, now Act 493, prohibits abortions after 18 weeks except during a medical emergency.
Hendren told his colleagues on Monday that he had plans to introduce the same amendment for SB 6, but ultimately decided not to.
“The amendment, the exact same one, exact same one that I was trying to attach to this bill today, because it reflects the policy that we have had for decades,” Hendren said.
“You know who put that amendment on the bill? Senator Rapert. I just don’t know how we go from a place that that was the right amendment two years ago but now we are weak-kneed, pro-choice Republicans doing the behest of the governor if you’re doing it two years later,” Hendren added.
Hendren was the only lawmaker to vote present on SB 6.
Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, said legislators were not spending time debating the right issue or question.
“The question really is, is it a baby or not? Is it a little person or not? If it’s not a little person – what the heck are we doing?” Ballinger said. “If it is a little human being and we agree with it, it doesn’t matter how they were created.”
Ballinger told colleagues about good friends he grew up with who had a cousin that was a product of incest. “Should he have been killed because his dad was a creep?” Ballinger questioned.
Rapert was asked by Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, to clarify the language in the bill which includes allowing medicine or chemicals to be used before an abortion. Rapert said his bill does not prohibit the use of medications such as Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, to prevent a pregnancy.
“If someone is involved – or God forbid – a child is molested or raped, they can be taken to a hospital and they can have emergency contraception and not be considered an abortion under even the medical guidelines,” said Rapert. “That to me is something that is important to point out because it is wrong to try to demonize those of us who stand for pro-life issues.”
The bill now heads to the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor House Committee. If the House passes this bill as is, it is unclear whether Gov. Asa Hutchinson plans to sign it.
In a statement, Hutchinson highlighted that exemptions for rape and incest have been included in the past.
“The legislature has historically included rape and incest as exceptions to abortion prohibitions. It makes sense to add the exceptions because if you are going to do a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, then it is important to have exceptions that the public generally supports. As a former member of Congress, I supported the Hyde amendment that prohibited taxpayer funds from being used for abortions, but it always included the exception language for rape and incest. I will continue to watch how the bill proceeds through the House,” he said.
Gloria Pedro, a regional manager for Planned Parenthood, called the bill “a publicity stunt.”
“We are extremely disappointed that Arkansas politicians continue to waste time and taxpayer money with a publicity stunt bill like SB 6. This bill ignores the reality of Arkansans suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic and from a lack of comprehensive health care in the state,” she said. “Let’s be clear: SB 6 is a ridiculous attempt to demand the Supreme Court reconsider Roe v. Wade on the say-so of the Arkansas Legislature.”
“Decades of precedent have upheld the fundamental right to abortion, and courts have repeatedly struck down bans that were less extreme than this one. Even the debate on the Senate floor today recognized that this bill will not stop abortion in Arkansas; it just attempts to end safe, legal abortion. Ultimately, SB 6 is the same old smokescreen that abortion opponents always pull out to misrepresent abortion care, attack women, and punish medical professionals,” she said.
Editor’s note: Marine Glisovic is the senior political reporter for KATV.