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Abortion Rights Activists Plan To Challenge Arkansas Ban In Court


Arkansas has approved an almost complete ban on abortions. It's the first state this year to do so. Governor Asa Hutchinson signed it into law yesterday. That's despite some reservations he had expressed about the measure's details. The law is expected to be challenged in court. In fact, abortion rights opponents are hoping it will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sarah Kellogg of member station KUAR in Little Rock joins us now. Good morning, Sarah.


DETROW: So what exactly does this new law allow or prohibit?

KELLOGG: Right. So the law completely bans the practice of abortion at any stage. It does list some very narrow medical exceptions where abortion would be allowed, and those are to save the life or health of an unborn child, to remove a dead child caused by, quote, "spontaneous abortion" or to remove an ectopic pregnancy. And lawmakers repeatedly said to save the life of the mother when it was going through the session. But that's not actually listed in those exceptions. And what the legislation does not include are exemptions for instances of rape or incest, which caused some members who have voted for anti-abortion legislation in the past to express some concern or not vote for the bill.

DETROW: What are the penalties that doctors and patients face under this law?

KELLOGG: So the penalties are all against those who are performing the abortion itself, and that could include a fine of up to $100,000, jail time of up to 10 years or a combination of fines or jail time. The bill does not impose penalties on the patient receiving the abortion.

DETROW: So walk us through what happens next. When does this go into effect? What do we expect to happen as a response?

KELLOGG: Yeah. So it doesn't actually take effect until 90 days after the current legislature adjourns. So it's not expected to take effect until summer at the earliest. The law will likely be challenged in court before then. The ACLU of Arkansas has already issued a statement condemning the law, calling it cruel and unconstitutional. They also stated their intent to challenge the law, saying, quote, "Governor Hutchinson, we'll see you in court," which is just what the sponsors of the legislation want.

DETROW: Yeah. It's interesting. This seems to really be about setting up a court case. The Supreme Court, of course, became much more conservative last fall. And is the effort here really to just start the process of getting this to the Supreme Court?

KELLOGG: Yeah. So this is just one of many anti-abortion bills the Arkansas legislature has passed this session. And this bill begins with a statement that it's aimed at overturning the Roe v. Wade decision, as well as other Supreme Court rulings that advocate or that advance abortion rights. And so it wasn't really a secret that that was the intent of this bill. Here's Republican Representative Mary Bentley discussing the bill in front of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee last week.


MARY BENTLEY: The reason we're bringing forth this bill - and I will say unashamedly, I'm hoping that we, Arkansas, will be the start to the end of abortion in America. And that's what the bill is for, to help us get to the Supreme Court. So some of the things that we're presenting today are to prepare this bill for that.

KELLOGG: And in the same committee meeting, a Democratic representative, Deborah Ferguson, spoke against the bill and - calling it draconian.


DEBORAH FERGUSON: Even if you're pro-life, this is a pretty extreme pro-life bill. Most people want exceptions for rape and incest.

KELLOGG: With Republican supermajorities in both chambers, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 27-7 and passed the House by a vote of 76-19.

DETROW: You know, one other interesting aspect of all of this is that the governor had expressed some concerns about this measure before he signed it yesterday. What were they?

KELLOGG: Yeah. So when the bill was still making its way through the Arkansas chamber, the governor was asked about the bill. And he said that he has historically signed every anti-abortion bill that came to his desk, but he wouldn't say if he would sign this one until he announced that he did. And after he signed the bill, in a statement, he says he thinks if rape and incest exemptions were included in the bill, which was something that he personally wanted to see in the bill, it would have increased the chances of a review by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he signed the bill because of, quote, "overwhelming legislative support and my sincere, long-held pro-life convictions."

DETROW: Sarah Kellogg, member station KUAR in Little Rock, thank you so much for joining us.

KELLOGG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "FENCES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

United States & World Morning Edition
Sarah Kellogg