The Corner

Politics & Policy

Arkansas Lawmakers Consider Measures to Ban Most Abortions, Protect Conscience Rights

In Arkansas, lawmakers are considering two bills that touch on abortion, one more far-reaching than the other. The first, Senate Bill 6, would prohibit nearly all abortions, with an exception only for those performed in instances when a mother’s life is at risk.

The measure, which I wrote about for NRO in December, has just been passed out of the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee in the Arkansas state senate. As Republicans hold a commanding majority in both chambers of the state’s general assembly — the GOP has 28 state senators to the Democratic Party’s seven and 78 state representatives to the Democrats’ 22 — the bill is likely to pass when it comes up for a full vote.

According to the draft text, lawmakers aim “to ensure that abortion in Arkansas is abolished and [to] protect the lives of unborn children.” Though a regulation as strict as this one has no chance of surviving a legal challenge under current jurisprudence, the bill has two main purposes.

First, it would serve as a “trigger law,” intended to take effect in the event that jurisprudence on abortion is altered in the future. If the Supreme Court were to roll back parts of Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion cases, allowing states to regulate abortion more than is currently permitted, a law such as this one would ensure that most abortions immediately become illegal in Arkansas.

Second, the bill is intended as a possible vehicle to provoke the loosening or overturning of Roe and subsequent rulings — and the bill text says as much.

“The State of Arkansas urgently pleads with the United States Supreme Court to do the right thing, as they did in one of their greatest cases, Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned a fifty-eight year-old precedent of the United States, and reverse, cancel, overturn, and annul Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey,” the bill states.

The second measure under consideration in the Arkansas general assembly, the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act,” aims to protect the conscience rights of medical workers. The bill, which recently passed the state senate, would allow health-care workers and institutions to decline to participate in non-emergency procedures to which they object.

Though it does not enumerate any specific procedures, the measure is most likely aimed at protecting health-care workers who object to medically unnecessary procedures such as abortions, elective sterilization, or sex-reassignment surgery. Opponents of the bill insist that it will allow medical professionals to deny necessary medical care, but the bill explicitly states that it cannot be applied to emergency procedures.

The measure is especially worthwhile considering that abortion supporters and advocates of hormone treatment or surgery for gender dysphoria increasingly oppose the right of health-care workers to decline to perform such procedures.


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