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Arkansas Lawmakers Pass Near-Total Abortion Ban in Bid to Force SCOTUS Review

The legislation in Arkansas is part of a broader trend of increasingly extreme bills restricting abortion access.

Pro-choice activists supporting legal access to abortion protest during a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on March 4, 2020.

As part of GOP lawmakers’ ongoing efforts across the country to outlaw abortion and enable the right-wing majority U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, the Arkansas Legislature on Wednesday passed a near-total ban that the state’s ACLU chapter described as “plainly unconstitutional.”

“It’s time for this decision to be overturned in the Supreme Court,” said state Rep. Mary Bentley, a Republican who sponsored the measure, which bans all abortions except to save the life of the pregnant person in a medical emergency and does not include exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal anomaly.

The GOP-majority Arkansas House approved the ban in a 75-18 vote that followed a 27-7 vote in the state Senate, also controlled by Republicans, last month.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, has signed various abortion restrictions. Although Hutchinson didn’t say whether he will endorse this one, he said before the House vote that “it’s pro-life legislation and I support pro-life legislation.” If he doesn’t act within five days, excluding Sunday, the bill will become law without his signature.

The legislation in Arkansas is part of a broader trend, Elisabeth Smith, the chief counsel for state policy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, recently told HuffPost.

“While the number of bills we are seeing now is in keeping with recent years, the difference is that the bills have become more extreme. Many states are introducing outright abortion bans,” said Smith, whose comments came ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

“Lawmakers are now very open about their goal of eliminating abortion access in their state, whereas before, they tried to disguise their motives,” she said. “For example, we used to see more bills that saddled abortion clinics with so many regulations that they’d be forced to shut down. Those bills were always passed under the guise of protecting women’s health, but now politicians have dropped the facade. They’re openly and unabashedly trying to ban abortion.”

The ACLU of Arkansas vowed to fight against the measure in a statement Wednesday.

“We’re disheartened to see a majority of legislators, who took an oath to uphold the Constitution, act so brazenly to undermine its fundamental guarantees,” the group said. “At a time when so many Arkansans are facing financial hardship and personal loss from a global pandemic, it is especially reprehensible that so many lawmakers remain hellbent on a harmful crusade to intrude on people’s personal autonomy and force them to continue pregnancies against their will.”

“This abortion ban is plainly unconstitutional and we stand ready to challenge it and any effort to block Arkansans from care or dictate their personal medical decisions,” the state’s ACLU added. “We will be seeing the state of Arkansas in court again.”

Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes is circulating a petition urging Hutchinson to veto the bill, which the group calls “an outright ban on abortion.”

“It is harmful legislation that criminalizes doctors and would prevent Arkansans from accessing a safe procedure that one in four American women in their lifetime will need,” the petition says. “This is an extreme attack on a woman’s constitutional right to safe, legal abortion care that has no exceptions for rape, incest, or fatal fetal anomaly.”

Various state lawmakers spoke out against the measure Wednesday.

“The goal of this legislation is not to protect life, but rather to go to the Supreme Court,” said state Rep. Ashley Hudson (D-Little Rock). “What we are doing now is gambling with our constituents’ lives.”

“We don’t have to do this,” Hudson added. “We don’t have to make women in this state collateral damage just to promote a political cause.”

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