© 2024 KUAF
NPR Affiliate since 1985
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A possible constitutional amendment to legalize some abortions in Arkansas

A ballot question committee called Arkansans for Limited Government has been formed to support a potential constitutional amendment that would make abortions legal again in Arkansas. Earlier this week, Ozarks at Large's Matthew Moore spoke with Gennie Diaz. She’s a member of the committee and also the executive director of For AR People, a nonpartisan political education and advocacy group. Diaz says the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the subsequent trigger law that went into effect was a catalyst for this work to begin.

Gennie Diaz: The conversation started almost immediately to figure out what we could do to restore some kind of liberty at the health care level for reproductive choices. But it morphed really because it has been exacerbated by this health care crisis that the state is experiencing where we have half of Arkansas counties without proper maternal or delivery care or even any at all. So, depending on where you live, if you're pregnant or hoping to become pregnant, you might be, you know, 50 miles or 60 miles from the nearest hospital or birthing physician. So, it's really a compromise from a lot of different angles and a lot of different perspectives. This group is, and the folks who have helped to get this group together really have a variety of opinions on the issue, but the common, I guess, theme or value is that we really don't believe the government should have any influence on the decision between a provider and the patient.

Matthew Moore: Let's talk a little bit about the decision of naming how you came to the decision to name the group. It's called Arkansans for Limited Government. What led to the decision to choose that specific name?

GD: That's a great question. Really, it's a reflection of Arkansans holding a deep value or belief in limited government and then contrasting that with personal liberty. We don't like to be told what to do as Arkansans. We know what is best for ourselves and our families. And when the government infringes upon that liberty, we don't like it— it feels bad for us, and that exemplifies or is indicative of how most Arkansans feel right now with health care and with reproductive health in the state. I think also the limited government element to the name of the ballot question committee reflects that. When you interfere too much from the state level. You do things like tie the hands of health care providers, to where now they feel they feel a lot of burden to be able to provide even routine care where they feel that instances of emergency care. Suddenly, they are stunned and have to comb through all kinds of potential legal ramifications, liability ramifications, and that is infringement. Right? That is an infringement on our right as people seeking health care from their provider because we expect and demand that our provider put our wellbeing first, but instead, government infringement and government overreach is now creating a situation where providers are putting the ramifications of statute first, and that puts providers in this really contradictory space where they have to pick do I follow state law or do I uphold my oath to do no harm? And so, we're hoping that the name of the group will really allow people to see that right that there are consequences when the government extends too far into areas where it really should not be dictating what happens in people's lives.

MM: What are some of the main points of the ballot measure? I think, you know, when people hear that we want to have abortion on the ballot, they want to know how long is someone able to be pregnant before they can no longer have an abortion. So, let's talk a little bit about some of those points with the measure.

GD: Yeah, so the language that's been proposed in the Arkansas Reproductive Healthcare Amendment specifies that the government shall not restrict abortion up until 18 weeks. So essentially, that first trimester plus a few weeks would be a time where a person could get an abortion and not have, you know, the burden of proving some kind of exception or giving any kind of reason. After 18 weeks that specifies that the government can restrict abortion, but not in certain instances. So, abortion would be allowed post 18 weeks in instances like rape or incest or in instances of fatal fetal anomalies. So, and that's defined in the language as due to a medical providers determination that a fetus would not be able to survive outside of the womb without or even with substantial medical intervention. And then also provide exceptions for not just life of the mother but health of the mother. And that was a really, really critical factor for this group and supporting it because that, again, allows providers to have broader language to be able to intervene and save somebody's life without getting right up until that edge, and I know as a woman of reproductive bearing age in this state, like if for some reason I wanted to get pregnant, I would really need to know that I would have a good chance of getting the care that I needed if something happened in an emergency and that I wouldn't be forced to be in a situation where I might almost die or get very close to that. And I think that a lot of families, especially women who are thinking about having kids, and that's something that goes through their minds. In this state, it's something you have to think about now that you didn't have to think about a year and a half ago.

MM: The chair of the group is Dr. Hershey Garner, who is a physician and in full disclosure, Dr. Hershey Garner is a donor to KUAF Public Radio, but he has not and will not have an input on our reporting of this story or any story on Ozarks at Large, but it seems significant that a medical doctor is playing a key role in this group as well.

GD: Yeah, and that that's intentional, right. I think that one thing that we really appreciate about Dr. Garner is that he's a physician who is willing and able to take a stance on this issue of government overreach and how it affects physicians and providers and also their care for their patients. Unfortunately, we are in a state where a lot of people want to be able to speak out and they can’t do it because they are afraid of retribution and retaliation. They're afraid for their personal safety. And that has been true of a lot of providers we've spoken with and bringing together this coalition. I mean, it's really great that we have a physician who has the position to be able to do that, but not every physician does. You know, we hope that as we continue as a ballot question committee that more providers will be willing to publicly join. But we also understand if that is not available to most people, if they're worried about their employment or whatever, whatever concerns they have for their family or their job or their safety, but yeah, it's intentional that we sent her the voices of providers and patients. Our treasurer is an attorney who also works in the medical malpractice space. But we appreciate their perspective and their expertise. And we have to lean on that when we make policies that impact people in those industries. We need to listen to experts.

MM: Can you talk a little bit more about you know, the things you've heard from practitioners from doctors who have said, “I wish I could say more, but if I could say more, this is what I would say.”

GD: Yeah, it's there is a lot of fear. There is a lot of fear and worry, and not just from a 30,000-foot view down where they get together and pontificate. No, it is a pragmatic, daily fear when they step into those exam rooms or into the hospital hallways, wherever it may be, where they have to run through potential set of scenarios. And we know that providers already do this because that's the nature of their job. But again, we would hope that they're running through potential scenarios for the best possible treatment and outcome for their patients. But now they're having this burden of running through legal ramifications and liability ramifications. So if you if you give someone a cliff, they're probably going to not go right up to it. But unfortunately, when it comes to health care, you want your doctor to be able to do whatever they can. That's really what we're talking about is like these situations where physicians are collaborating with one another. They're worrying about this together as colleagues. They are leaning on each other for best practices, but it's uncharted territory. And unfortunately, the ramification is that the health care of individuals in the state will suffer because of it.

MM: The website for the group has a handful of personal and anonymized stories of people in Arkansas seeking care in a variety of ways and being unable to get it because of the current laws in Arkansas. Why do you think it's important to share those stories?

GD: It's really important because, again, this is a nuanced issue, in the sense that abortion as a treatment is a very nuanced issue. Unfortunately, the issue has been polarized at the national level, and it's been weaponized for political gain. And for power, but in practicality, from a provider standpoint, abortion can be a routine treatment for different things for a miscarriage. For lethal fetal anomaly. A lot of times, I think what some ends of the spectrum do is they create a lot of fear and appeal to people's emotions by telling stories about really late-term abortions. The truth is, is that if you have a really terrible diagnosis and you are late in your pregnancy, mostly you're just induced, and you deliver early, and you have to deal as a person with grieving that and saying goodbye to very much wanted baby. And those can all be determined as abortion in the cases of provider standpoint and what is offered to patients. That is not allowed in this state anymore. And so we have to tell the story so that people can see it is such a wide spectrum. And the language that has been proposed allows for some of these nuances, it gives people it gives providers an option to step in and care for their patients in the best way. It's a spectrum, and we're not telling anybody how to think about the issue or what they believe personally. We're just saying, let's untie the hands of doctors and let them get back to work.

MM: Why do you think a person who is pro-life should be in favor of this?

GD: That's a great question. I think that if someone believes in personal liberty and limited government infringement, they have an absolute right to vote or support something like this. I also think that the ballot initiative tool and the limited language that is in the amendment itself eliminate abortion. It's not full abortion access. All of that reflects what most Arkansans feel about abortion, which is that it should be legal in some circumstances it should be available in certain instances. And then most Arkansans also believe that the government doesn't have you know, doesn't have the right to intervene or be involved in personal healthcare decisions. So, this is really a compromise. Again, it doesn't appeal to either end of the spectrum. And that's intentional because we want to propose policy and support policy that is going to benefit most Arkansans and that most Arkansans support.

MM: You know, every time I have a conversation with folks about constitutional amendments, one of the things that I always think about it as roadblocks. What sort of things do you think could keep this amendment from getting on the ballots or maybe even being something that's approved by citizens in November of 2024?

GD: Well, we have a lot of potential roadblocks, unfortunately. But also, maybe fortunately. I mean, it's a pretty robust process, the ballot issue process, despite the legislature trying to make it even harder. It's already very difficult to get something on the ballot. We also have a new law in Arkansas that specifies that ballot initiatives, including constitutional amendments, need to have signatures from 50 counties in Arkansas, which is up from the 15th burden that the current constitution specifies in our state. That is under litigation right now that's being challenged in court. So, we will wait to see what happens there, but our group fully plans to canvass and get signatures from 50 counties to follow the current law. That's a big roadblock. Funding is a big roadblock. I mean, it takes a lot of money to be able to get your message out and educate especially on these nuanced issues within this very polarizing topic. And to be able to reach people and have conversations because that's really what this is, is, is having conversations and inviting people to maybe hold that liminal space with this issue and think about some things from the perspective of other people, which again, is why those narratives are so important to center. Really, it takes a sense of adaptability to be able to do this type of thing, and it takes a lot of determination and grit, and I will say that those of us who are on board are very determined. We are full steam ahead and if there is a roadblock put in our place, I'm sure we will find a way through it or around it or to dismantle it.

On Tuesday, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin rejected the popular name and ballot title of this amendment. Griffin says that the meaning of the word “health” is unclear when referencing the pregnant female’s life or health. Griffin also says the “proposed popular name is tinged with partisan coloring and [is] misleading.”

In response to the Attorney General’s opinion, Arkansans for Limited Government said in a press release that they appreciate the Attorney General’s thorough review of and impartial response to the amendment’s language. They also said they will begin work immediately with the amendment drafter to craft a revised amendment and they’re committed to supporting a ballot proposal that is clear for Arkansas voters.

Stay Connected
Matthew Moore is senior producer for Ozarks at Large.
Related Content