Arkansas elected officials joined thousands of Arkansans at the annual March for Life on the Capitol steps calling to end abortion Sunday (Jan. 20).
A day earlier, abortion rights supporters held a Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Capitol. The rallies came days before the 46th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide on Jan. 22, 1973.
At the March for Life, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a brief speech that legislation has made Arkansas the nation’s second most pro-life state. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told the crowd, “More fundamental than changing the law is changing hearts and changing minds.” U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, asked the crowd to “pray for us that we’re able to cast the votes to do the right thing to protect life in this beautiful country.”
Other Republican elected officials in attendance were Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Secretary of State John Thurston, Treasurer Dennis Milligan, and Land Commissioner Tommy Land.
Arkansas Right to Life’s legislative package this session includes two bills. One “safe haven” bill would add fire departments as a place where mothers can anonymously leave their newborn children without facing prosecution.
Another bill would require providers of two-phase medication abortions to provide clients a hotline and website, abortionpillreversal.com, where they could learn how to reverse the process. The second medication is taken at home, but the process can be reversed with medication taken after that first phase. Christa Brown with Heartbeat International told the crowd that more than 500 abortions have been stopped using that process.
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, has filed two other abortion-related bills. Senate Bill 2 would ban abortions in cases where the child has or may have Down syndrome. Senate Bill 3 would require abortion providers to electronically report complications to the state Department of Health. The Health Department would publish online an annual report about abortion complications without detailing individual records.
Also speaking was Courtney Beck, client services director at Options Pregnancy Center, who said she obtained an abortion at age 16 through a judicial bypass of the state’s parental notification law and lived with “severe anxiety and depression” afterwards.
“For over 17 years, I was a prisoner of the deepest shame,” she said. “I had so much mental and emotional anguish, I feel certain I experienced the unending process of spiritual death. I couldn’t even see an accurate reflection of myself in the mirror.”
She said she began to heal at a post-abortion retreat led by Options Pregnancy Center at Cabot and then at another retreat.
On Jan. 19, a rally supporting legalized abortion organized by the Arkansas Coalition for Reproductive Justice occurred inside the Capitol on a wet, snowy day.
Keynote speaker Pamela Merritt, who helped found the pro-choice group Reproaction, said her group’s purpose is to “drag (the abortion rights movement) kicking, screaming or willing to the left.” The group formed an Arkansas branch in 2018.
“We celebrate abortion and access to abortion as a good thing, a necessary piece of health care that improves health outcomes and should be just like going to the dentist,” she said. “And we do say we are pro-abortion because abortion is good. It is not horrible.”
Merritt said abortion existed before Roe vs. Wade and will exist if it is overturned. She said abortion opponents “have asked for the mantle of power, and when you take that mantle, you have some responsibility. If you are going to say that you’re pro-life, there’s lives that you need to be pro for.”
Speakers touched on a variety of topics, including police mistreatment of African-Americans, the state takeover of the Little Rock School District, transgender rights and the rights of immigrants.
The coalition’s Camille Richoux, explained, “We get asked this every single year: What is reproductive justice? And we want to lay this out right here, right now. Reproductive justice is the right to have children, the right to decide to not become a parent. And then it’s also the right to raise the children we do have in safe and healthy environments.”