HANDMAIDENS: At the Washington County Quorum Court meeting. Autumn Toblert

Last night the GOP-controlled Washington County Quorum Court passed a resolution declaring the county to be “pro-life,” after what might have been the grossest display of benevolent sexism outside of a Mother’s Day sermon at an evangelical church. Just minutes before the resolution passed, the court voted down a proposed amendment to add support for affordable child care, age-appropriate and medically accurate sex education, access to contraception, universal health care and a living wage. 

If your eyes just rolled out of your head, just wait. The court also voted to raise the salary of Brian Lester, the county attorney and chief of staff, who also just happens to be the chairman of the Washington County Republican Committee. The lowest paid county employees still wait for news of any pay increases.

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During public comment, the supporters of the pro-life ordinance hit all the regular pro-birth talking points. Nicole Johnson with Loving Choices, a pregnancy resource center in Northwest Arkansas, said every woman had a broken heart after an abortion. Anne Britton, who refers to herself as “Miss NRA” on social media, claimed the ordinance was what the Founding Fathers wanted when they signed the Declaration of Independence. Someone named Laura read what seemed to be the entire Book of Proverbs. The final speaker in support of the ordinance brought in a plastic model of a fetus and told the quorum court if they didn’t vote for the resolution it was the same as taking a hammer to the fetus. 

Those who spoke against the ordinance brought up the lack of action by the quorum court over the past year to help children and families, including the delay in getting the CARES Act money out during the pandemic, the failure to pass habitability standards and the lack of spending to promote the vaccine. Opponents also brought up the absence of scientific data in the discussion and the divisiveness of a nonbinding resolution when the county has more important issues to handle, such as the rising number of cases and deaths during the pandemic and repairing county buildings. Reverend Angela Williams of Fayetteville pointed out the court did not seem interested in saving lives and was “more interested in playing partisan theocratic games in the name of religion.” 

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Autumn Tolbert
WAVING GREEN CARDS: Members of the crowd showing support for the speaker.

Williams is correct. Republican Justice of the Peace Patrick Deakins, who sponsored the ordinance and is rumored to be eyeing a run for county judge, made a motion to amend the resolution to take out the language from Genesis but insisted it was only after he received legal advice that the bible verse could “open them up” to unintended consequences. The amendment passed. But even without the scripture, the intent is the same: Deakins is using his political position to impose his religion on the entire county. 

Justices of the Peace Eva MadisonEvelyn Rios Stafford, Shawndra Washington and Suki Highers, all Democrats, spoke out against the resolution. Rios Stafford, who twice has had her efforts to add language supporting policies that actually reduce abortion stopped by the GOP members of the court, pointed out that the court’s actions don’t match the pro-life rhetoric. Washington cautioned against allowing one person to be the voice of the county and suggested they table the ordinance so they could come together to find ways to actually be pro-life, including addressing maternal mortality. 

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Autumn Tolbert
JP PATRICK DEAKINS

In speaking for the resolution, Deakins, who earlier in the day had called the opponents of the resolution “wicked detractors,” described a woman out there somewhere who will be inspired by the ordinance to know she and her baby are loved. One can imagine Deakins on a white horse riding up to this imaginary woman and handing her a copy of the resolution while ignoring her pleas for access to health care, food and shelter while the rest of the GOP congratulate him for his good deed. 

Deakins seems disinterested in listening to anyone asking him to stop trying to insert himself and the government into a private decision that is protected by the United States Constitution. He shows a disregard for science and evidence by refusing to even consider amending his resolution to show support for public policies that work to achieve his goal of ending abortions. He divides his constituents with publicity stunts while ignoring real problems. With this type of smug paternalism and ego, I’m sure he has a bright future in the Republican Party of Arkansas.