Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson chose to leave two major issues off his special session call for accelerated tax cuts and school safety funding: abortion legislation and teacher pay increases.
Citing a lack of legislative consensus for either avoided subject, Hutchinson said any changes in the area of abortion will either need to come in the regular session in January, when he’s out of office, or by a supermajority of the legislature adding it to the call. This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade, that provided a constitutional right for women to have abortions. The new ruling, known as the Dobbs decision, makes abortion policy a states’ rights issue. Arkansas had a trigger law on the books if Roe was overturned that initiated a ban on abortions with an exception for the life of the mother.
“I signed it into law and we’re going to have a lot of experience over the next year on this abortion issue, but in Arkansas, I think it’s fixed. I believe that there’s a consensus around the pro-life support that the legislature enacted into law. And so there’s no need to put it on the special session because it’s fixed,” he said.
When asked if there needed to be more exemptions for circumstances such as the high-profile Ohio case involving a raped 10-year old who became pregnant, Hutchinson said he would like to have additional exemptions on the Arkansas books – such as exceptions for rape and incest – but legislative will is not there.
“I would actually like to have that on the books, but there’s no sense, and there’s no ability to do that without legislative support,” he said, noting that he tried to persuade legislators to add those changes when the trigger law was passed. He said the state has dealt with a child in state custody who became pregnant.
“While I’ve been governor, we’ve had a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old in state custody that became pregnant. And so those are heartbreaking circumstances. And when do you use the power of the state to compel a young mother to carry a child to term? And I think that’s a fair question as to when the life of the mother is at risk. So those are tough issues, and time will dictate as to whether there should be any changes down the road but right now it’s set and there’s not any agreement or wish in the legislature to readdress that,” Hutchinson said.
The governor offered his assessment of last week’s surprising Kansas vote that kept abortion rights in that state’s constitution. Voters rejected a measure to repeal abortion rights by 59-41% with roughly 182,000 more people voting on the issue than the number who voted in both the Republican and Democratic primaries for governor combined.
“It certainly says that there’s a mixed opinion in our country, it’s divided by states as to the approach to abortion. It tells us that the electorate is concerned about it. They’re going to address it in different ways in different states,” Hutchinson said.
“Kansas was a little bit of a surprise because it’s considered a conservative state, and I know they’ve had in the past a strong pro-life position so it was a surprise. I think it remains to be seen as to whether there’s going to be any adjustments in other states. It’s interesting to me that the states that have addressed it, they’re moving fairly slowly on it. I think they’ve given it a lot of thought. And so we’ll see where it goes, but it clearly indicates that it might be an issue in the fall election,” he added.
Watch Hutchinson’s comments on the special session, his decision to not include teacher pay, his thoughts on the campaign being run by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and his Presidential plans, if any, in the video below.