The national media is keeping an eye on Arkansas as potentially the first state to pass a law similar to Texas, which currently has the most restrictive law currently in effect in the nation. Here’s the HuffPost yesterday:
Arkansas is likely to be the first state to pass a bill similar to Texas’ six-week abortion ban ― the most extreme abortion restriction in U.S. history that has forced many to flee the state to receive care.
Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert (R) announced last week that he will introduce the Arkansas Heartbeat Protection Act on Oct. 25 during a special legislative session. Although Rapert has yet to formally release the bill, he said it will include “a civil cause of action ― just like Texas.” It’s very likely that the legislation will mirror S.B. 8, especially coming from Rapert who, when S.B. 8 became law in September, told news outlets: “What Texas has done is absolutely awesome.”
It’s a little more complicated than that. Governor Hutchinson announced yesterday that he is delaying the special session, so no action will be forthcoming this week.
Hutchinson sets the agenda for the special session –currently slated for tax cuts — and based on his comments yesterday, appears disinclined to put the abortion issue on the call, at least until there’s more guidance from the courts. However, a two-thirds vote of the legislature could add other items beyond what the governor selects.
Asked yesterday whether he would consider putting the abortion issue on the call, the governor responded: “We have a very restrictive anti-abortion law that’s been passed in Arkansas that prohibits all abortion except to save the life of the mother. That has been enjoined by the courts so that’s working its way through the courts.” Other cases are likewise working their way through, including Texas, he said. “What we need right now — we have restrictive abortion laws — we need resolution by the courts and it would be wiser to wait until we get that guidance before we start passing laws again,” he said.
“If we get guidance, I’m open to looking at that guidance and seeing what step Arkansas should take, if any,” he added. “But at this time…that is not something that we should do now.”
In a press release issued yesterday after the governor’s announcement, Rapert said there was no need to wait. “All the Governor has to do is call a special session of the legislature with the Heartbeat Bill on the agenda and we will pass it,” Rapert said. “We don’t need to wait on the U.S. Supreme Court for guidance.”
The governor was somewhat vague about his reasons for delaying the session, saying “we need more time” to hammer out the details on a tax-cut package that can pass the legislature and hoping that guidance from the courts on the abortion issue would be forthcoming soon. But it’s hard not to speculate on whether he has the votes in place to pass his tax-cut proposal without broadening the session to include Rapert’s bill and who knows what else.
Certainly as soon as a special session convenes, Rapert will do everything he can to rally a two-thirds majority in both houses to try to pass a copycat bill of Texas law. Could the small contingent of Democrats plus Hutchinson’s closer allies join to block Rapert’s effort? Perhaps. But it’s hard to bet against anti-abortion politics in Arkansas.
Here’s the full statement from Rapert, who is running for lieutenant governor:
We have the opportunity to save the lives of unborn Arkansans today, all the Governor has to do is call a special session of the legislature with the Heartbeat Bill on the agenda and we will pass it. We don’t need to wait on the U.S. Supreme Court for guidance – Arkansas people want to stop abortions right now. The opportunity to use this new legal strategy to stop abortions in our state is unique and we should take immediate action. The legislature is ready to pass this law and shut down Planned Parenthood in Arkansas.
The Texas law bans abortion at six weeks and empowers private citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion rather than the state enforcing the law directly.
Here’s more from HuffPost, with comments from Planned Parenthood:
“We are taking this very, very seriously,” said Emily Wales, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “We know that we have a number of legislators here in Arkansas who are eager to be on the frontlines of ending abortion access entirely ― no matter the impact on the citizens they serve.” …
“The overwhelming majority of Arkansans would lose access to care,” Wales said. As the leader of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which serves Oklahoma as well as Nebraska, Wales knows all too well the damage done by restrictions such as S.B. 8. Oklahoma’s Planned Parenthood clinics are seeing “lots of patients in crisis who are crossing state lines from Texas,” Wales said.
“The reality of what this means for the region is very, very real and present,” she said. “It would only increase that crisis to Arkansans who would then be forced to travel, if they can afford to, to states even farther out ― potentially overwhelming the neighboring states that are trying to support Texans.”