Arkansas senators voted Monday to ban abortion in the state and rejected pleas to make exceptions in cases of rape and incest. The only exception to the abortion ban would be to save the life of the mother.
Senate Bill 6 now goes to the state House.
Some expected Sen. Jim Hendren, a newly proclaimed independent who recently left the Republican party, to push for an amendment to the bill that would allow for exceptions in cases of rape or incest. He didn’t.
“These are strange times indeed,” Hendren said. “If you’d have told me I would be speaking against a bill pro-life groups support, I wouldn’t have believed you.” Hendren was clearly irritated by a whisper campaign by pro-life groups and supporters alleging that Hendren was trying to amend the bill on behalf of his uncle, Governor Hutchinson.
“What we’re doing today bothers me because it is a departure from what we’ve been doing for 25 years,” Hendren said, pointing out that even the staunchest anti-abortion Arkansas lawmakers have long voted to make exceptions for cases of rape and incest. Hendren said he used to take offense when people accused anti-abortion groups of caring more about life before birth than after, but he’s beginning to agree. Arkansas has the second worse infant mortality rate in the nation, he noted, and so-called pro-life legislators are some of the biggest resisters to making the improvements needed to change that. Ultimately, Hendren voted “present” on the bill.
Senate Democrats and one Republican spoke against the bill, an extreme piece of legislation that directly challenges the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.
“Roe v. Wade did not wave a magic wand and create abortion in the United States,” Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) said. And reversing it won’t end abortion. “I think all 135 members of the legislature want to reduce abortion,” Tucker said.
The wealthy and privileged will always have access to abortion care, Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) said. “The privileged still will get to make a choice. It is the other people, the marginalized ones, who you’re going to force into back alleys and to butchers.”
Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) briefly broke ranks to argue for adding an exception for rape or incest. “It just burns my hide that people at this Capitol are questioning my pro-life stance,” she said. But she eventually voted for the near-total ban.
Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow), the bill’s sponsor and also a preacher, cited the Bible as justification for the abortion ban. “There’s six things God hates, and one of those is people who shed innocent blood. I’m not going to be a part of any of that,” he said.
Ironically, Rapert is also a co-sponsor of SB 24, a stand your ground law that allows people who feel threatened to react with deadly force even if they could retreat safely. Similar laws passed in other states correlate with substantially higher homicide rates.
Max Brantley also reported on the vote.