Attorney General Leslie Rutledge signs certification prohibiting abortion in Arkansas
In a small room on the second floor of the Tower Building, police escorts accompanied press and dignitaries up an elevator to a press conference certifying the prohibition of abortion in the state of Arkansas. They had time to print these cordial announcement cards beforehand. It’s like an afternoon tea! But ya know, less Earl Grey and biscuits, more “rob you of your bodily autonomy.”
The mood was jovial among the attendees. Jerry Cox, the founder and president of the Family Council, greeted the person next to him and said, “It’s a real good day. Such good work.” Earlier, he’d remarked that he was “pleased to have been wrong. Thought it was gonna be Monday or Tuesday.”
“It is a historic day in our state and in our country,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said. She took us through the history of what she called a “wrongly decided decision.”
“Roe was wrong on that day and it has been wrong every day since,” Rutledge said. After a victory lap for her team’s “great efforts to protect innocent lives against the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the radical left,” she doubled down on Arkansas’s extreme version of the abortion ban, adding, “This decision essentially puts our pro-life laws in place, with the only exception being to save the life of the mother, defined as a medical emergency.”
Speaking of the ACLU, here’s what Arkansas ACLU’s Executive Director Holly Dickson had to say about today’s ruling: “Today the Supreme Court effectively committed a brazen assault on Americans’ fundamental rights – the right to make our own medical decisions, and rights to privacy and self-governance and autonomy relegating so many of us to second-class citizenry with its shameful decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overruling Roe v. Wade (Roe) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. With Roe overruled, and the Attorney General having now certified that Arkansas’s 2019 trigger ban is now in effect, anti-abortion politicians have finally succeeded in their long drive to ban abortion in Arkansas. This will have an immediate and life-altering effect on all Arkansans – especially people of color, immigrants, people who live in rural areas, young people, and people with low incomes–who already shoulder the brunt of inaccessibility.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who himself said May 22 that he thought the state laws should be revisited to consider exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, took the podium. “For me this is a turning point for our nation,” he said. “I fought for a number of decades for greater protection for the unborn.”
“This is not a nationwide ban,” he added. “Justice Kavanaugh in his concurrent opinion said that the decision today does not outlaw abortion in the United States,” but leaves that decision to the states. “I will be directing the Arkansas Department of Health to enforce the law and to ensure that any abortion provider is in compliance with the law. This does not put at risk access to contraceptives or other issues that are tangentially related.” Asked about fines or punishments for violations, Hutchinson said, “Of course the law provides for a criminal penalty for an abortion provider. They also emphasize that there is no penalty to the woman, only to the abortion provider. The Department of Health’s responsibility is to make sure that the provider is in compliance with the law.”
“This will continue to be debated and protested throughout the country,” he added. “That is the heart of our democracy.”
Rutledge got teary-eyed and her voice wavered as she gave her last remarks. “I will always recall where I was when the Dobbs decision came down, as the first woman ever elected [state] Attorney General and as someone who God took a long time to decide that it was time for me to be a mom.”
Then Rutledge signed the certification.
So what of Hutchinson’s call to include exceptions for rape and incest? “The certification is what it is, in terms of the exceptions for the life of the mother. I do not see any further action,” he said. “The people have spoken.” And would he plan on having the legislature examine such exceptions in a special session? No, he said.
State Rep. Ashley Hudson has spoken, too. “The people of Arkansas know how bad this is. Not only does the overturning of Roe mean access to safe abortion will cease to exist in Arkansas, it means the state is granting new rights to rapists and violent sex offenders to force their victim to carry a rape-caused pregnancy to term. Arkansas is home to the second highest rape rate in the country, and for lawmakers to minimize the effect the trigger law will have on women who have been raped is outrageous.”
“We are entering a dangerous time,” Rep. Hudson continued. “Arkansans are good, smart, and compassionate, and they are demanding lawmakers fix Arkansas law to ensure no woman is prohibited from terminating a pregnancy that was caused by rape or incest.”
And what about the timing? When was the last legal abortion in Arkansas? When did the clinics know it was coming? Did people’s appointments get canceled abruptly, and how soon will the Department of Health be enforcing compliance with the extremist new law?
“We have patients scheduled to receive abortion care who, as of today, will not be able to get the care they need and deserve because the Supreme Court has taken away their right to make decisions about their own health care,” Lori Williams, clinical director of Little Rock Family Planning Services, said in a press release today. “Today’s decision will harm people, cost lives, and devastate families for generations to come. Instead of restrictions and bans that will lead only to suffering, we need accessible health care that ensures people can be treated for complications in pregnancy, safeguarding the well-being of those who suffer rape and incest, and being gentle and kind to those needing to make sometimes difficult decisions about their health and bodies.”
Does this certification put the ban into effect immediately? No pause for an appeal process or other procedural filings? Rutledge said yes, it’s effective now. Pressed for an answer re: ectopic or medically dangerous pregnancies, Rutledge got stern and said, “Again, I’m gonna state this as clearly as possible. The only time that an abortion is legal in Arkansas is to save the life of the mother.” (Well, guess that’s that!)
“Government’s first and primary role is to protect its citizens, including women and especially children,” state Rep. Vivian Flowers (Pine Bluff) said in a press release today from Arkansas Democrats. “This ruling destroys the promise of equal protection by waving the banner of state’s rights over the rights of women to choose and to live. Arkansas’s abortion ban with no exception for rape or incest is not just mean, it is a return to a time in which women and girls are excluded from governmental protection, instead criminalizing and terrorizing them. It is my mission to stand in this breach and to encourage the women and men of this state to not let this pass in silence. This is a moment to not only be heard, but to act.”
Asked about encroachment to other rights, following Justice Thomas’s claim that we should re-examine access to contraception and same-sex marriage rulings, Rutledge dodged, saying we should “focus on the victory today.”
Asked about whether mothers would be expected to carry high-risk or ectopic pregnancies to term, Rutledge averted the question, saying, “The law in Arkansas states that it is to save the life of the mother. Arkansas is already ahead of the curve, we were prepared in 2019 for this court’s opinion. It’s almost as if we had a crystal ball.” (Read as: It’s almost as if we strategically set out for years to dismantle reproductive rights and health care for poor women.)
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