Lawmakers and other supporters of Senate Bill 6 to ban nearly all abortions in the state rallied at the Capitol Wednesday, a couple of hours before the bill gets its first hearing in committee, scheduled for 2 p.m.
Bill sponsor Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow) emceed the event, which was held in the Capitol rotunda and attracted about 50 lawmakers and representatives from the Family Council, Arkansas Right to Life and other anti-abortion groups. The meeting came on the heels of news that at least one national pro-life group worries SB 6 is off the mark and could harm the cause. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s John Moritz reports that the general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee advises against pushing SB 6. It’s not clear the U.S. Supreme Court is ready to overturn abortion rights and pushing the issue right now could move their cause backward, attorney James Bopp, counsel for the National Right to Life committee, said in a letter to Governor Hutchinson last month.
For the group gathered at the Capitol rotunda Wednesday, though, it’s the perfect time to champion a ban on virtually all abortions.
“The voices of 62 million dead babies cry out, ‘Now is the time,’ ” Rapert said, referring to his estimate of the number of abortions since the Supreme Court legalized the procedures in 1973.
A yards-long roll of signatures on shiny paper spilled down the marble steps from the Senate chamber to the rotunda like a giant slip and slide. The paper included the names of more than a 250,000 people who support a full abortion ban.
“We love babies. We love unborn babies, and we love the mothers who care for these children,” Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro) said during an opening prayer.
Attendees heard from Nona Ellington, who said an abortion she had at age 15 left her unable to have children and caused her to breast cancer.
Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) held up a binder full of women’s accounts of the negative effects of their abortions.
“The abortion did not just kill their unborn child. It destroyed their life, Bentley said. “They will never forget the murder that they did.”
While SB 6 seemingly has some momentum, it won’t pass without a fight. Karen Musick with the Arkansas Abortion Support Network arrived at the Capitol around 1 p.m., and expected more reproductive justice warriors to be here in time for the 2 p.m. meeting of the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee where SB 6 could get its first votes.
Musick has been here before to speak up for women’s reproductive rights. “I don’t know what to say. I’ve been here and testified four times and told stories four times,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter, but I’m not going to stop.”
Her group, an all-volunteer effort, spent $10,000 in January to help women access medical abortion care. She pushes back against the language anti-abortion lawmakers use, painting women who terminate pregnancies as murderers.
“It’s not. There’s no slaughter of babies happening,” she said.
UPDATE: The Senate Public Health Committee limited testimony on the bill later in the afternoon because of the fear of advancing wintry weather. It was a familiar round of emotional testimony from women who regretted abortions they’d received and from women supporting the need for continued availability of abortion and supporting women’s right to make their own medical decisions.
When time was up, the committee endorsed the bill unanimously without debate, as expected from a committee stocked with anti-abortion members.