With a stroke of a pen, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Friday (June 24) certified that almost all abortions are now illegal in Arkansas. Her action followed the U.S. Supreme Court opinion published earlier in the day that ended the constitutional protection to abortion.
Rutledge certified that the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization triggered Act 180 of 2019. That law states that most abortions become illegal in Arkansas if Roe v. Wade were overturned.
The law states that abortions are legal only “to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.” It also excludes ectopic pregnancies, where the fertilized egg implants somewhere other than in the uterus.
“I’m going to say this as clearly as I know how and as clearly as the law states: The only time that an abortion is legal in Arkansas is to save the life of the mother,” Rutledge said.
Performing an abortion now is a felony with imprisonment of up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to $100,000. The law does not include a penalty assessed on the woman obtaining an abortion. Licensed physicians whose medical treatment causes an unintentional injury or death to the unborn child have “an affirmative defense to prosecution,” the law states.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the Dobbs decision “a turning point for our nation.” He said he will direct the Department of Health to enforce the law and conduct inspections and notifications to ensure abortion providers are in compliance.
Lori Williams, clinical director of Little Rock Family Planning Services, an abortion provider, released a statement saying, “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. Today’s decision will harm people, cost lives, and devastate families for generations to come.”
Hutchinson, an attorney, said state regulations of abortions still can be challenged but not on the legal basis that abortion is a constitutional right. The presumption will be that a regulation is appropriate so long as it has a rational basis, he said. He noted that the author of the Dobbs decision, Justice Samuel Alito, had written that the Court did not know how the political system or society would respond.
“Well, we do know in Arkansas as to how we will respond, and the response is because the people have already spoken,” Hutchinson said.
Rutledge’s voice cracked with emotion as she prepared to sign the certification. She said that “as the first woman ever elected attorney general, and as someone who it took a long time for God to decide that it was time for me to be a mom, I can’t wait for other women across Arkansas to have that same joy of seeing their child’s face that maybe they would not have seen had it not been for today’s decision.”
Before signing Act 180 into law in 2019, Hutchinson had said he supported excepting pregnancies caused by rape and incest from the ban. He said at the press conference he did not plan on asking lawmakers to reconsider those exceptions. Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, said at the press conference he had not been part of any discussions regarding further legislation.
Jerry Cox, president of the pro-life group Family Council, said his group would seek to enact legislation providing support to pregnancy resource centers that have provided services to pregnant women while encouraging them not to seek abortions. The Arkansas Legislature in 2021 provided one-time funding of $1 million to the centers statewide.
Cox said his group in 2023 will seek to make funding permanent and will try to increase it to as much as $5 million annually, which would place Arkansas roughly even on a per capita basis with the funding that Texas provides its centers.
“It behooves all of us who have campaigned against abortion all these years now to step up and say, ‘OK, if we have 3,000 more babies that are going to be born in Arkansas because abortion is not available, what are we going to do to help those women and those babies,’ and that’s the next step and that’s the next challenge, really,” he said.
Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, who sponsored Act 180 but did not attend the press conference, released a statement saying, “This is a great day for our nation as future generations of Americans will be given a greater chance at realizing their own lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness by being born in the greatest country the world has known.”
Rapert also said the ruling opens the door to change other previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that previous rulings, such as the ruling allowing gay marriage, be revisited.
“We believe that yes, marriage should be restored between one man and one woman and I can’t wait to see Obergefell fall just like we have seen Roe V. Wade fall,” Rapert said.
Rapert also said the next move is to end abortion in all states.
“The NACL (National Association of Christian Lawmakers) has committed that we are going to seek the abolishment of abortion in every state in this country because just like Abe Lincoln said – we cannot continue as a house divided, I don’t know how you can kill a baby in one state and believe that it’s life is precious in another just like we don’t know how you have a slave in one state but yet they be free in another,” he said.
Others expressed dismay. Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, released a statement calling the Dobbs decision “shameful” and “a brazen assault on Americans’ fundamental rights.”
“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,” she said.
In a press release issued by the Democratic Party of Arkansas, Rep. Ashley Hudson, D-Little Rock, said that “the state is granting new rights to rapists and violent sex offenders to force their victim to carry a rape-caused pregnancy to term.”
KATV Senior Political Reporter Marine Glisovic contributed to this report.