Arkansas near-total abortion ban certain to face legal showdown

The bill does not does not include exceptions for rape and incest.

March 10, 2021, 6:13 PM

Arkansas's latest move to restrict abortion access for its residents will likely head to court as proponents and opponents of a new law debate over the future of reproductive rights in the state.

Both sides of the issue contend that the legal battle could have larger implications for the rest of the country.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed SB 6, which passed in the state legislature and prohibits abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother. Cases involving rapes and incest are not considered exceptions under the law, a move that Hutchinson said in a statement he did not agree with.

The governor, nonetheless, advocated for the bill, which also charges anyone who performs a non-approved abortion with a felony punishable up to 10 years in prison.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivers a speech on the second day of the Republican National Convention, July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Alex Wong/Getty Images, FILE

Hutchinson acknowledged the bill was made to challenge Roe v. Wade.

"SB6 is in contradiction of binding precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law," Hutchinson said in a statement following the bill's signing.

Several reproductive rights advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, the Guttmacher Institute and NARAL Pro-Choice America, immediately condemned the bill and noted that the state has spent the last couple of years chipping away access to safe abortions.

Without any open clinics in the state, the average one-way driving distance to an abortion clinic for Arkansas women would be 128 miles, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute.

Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement that her organization will see the governor in court.

"This extreme abortion ban is cruel and unconstitutional, and it will have accomplished nothing but cause stress for patients while ignoring the pressing challenges Arkansans face," she said in a statement.

A handful of unidentified pro-choice supporters gather outside the state capitol prior to the 26th annual March for Life in Little Rock, Ark., Jan. 18, 2004.
David Quinn/AP, FILE

The law is slated to go into effect at the end of August, but it is likely to be the first of many state laws that are aimed at curtailing abortion access.

There were 384 anti-abortion provisions were introduced in 43 states in January and February, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, and several states have pressed on with their legislative packages.

The South Dakota Legislature passed a bill this week that would ban abortions due to a Down syndrome diagnosis and would impose a criminal felony on the provider. A bill approved by Arizona state leaders would ban abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy and charge those who perform such procedures with a felony.

The governors of both states have said they will sign the bills.

A federal judge has put a hold on a bill that would also restrict abortions in South Carolina after Planned Parenthood sued the state.

The bill, which passed in February, requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus, which can typically be detected about six weeks after conception. If one is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or the mother’s life is in danger.

Elizabeth Nash, the Guttmacher Institute's associate director of state issues, said in a statement that there will likely be more challenges to Roe v. Wade from the state level and urged Congress to take up the issue soon.

"Now is the time for Congress to protect against these attacks by creating a federal statutory right to access abortion without medically unnecessary restrictions through the Women’s Health Protection Act," she said in a statement.