independent– Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has signed a ban on nearly all abortion services in the state, after the procedure was already made extremely difficult for female residents to access.
Republican Mr Hutchinson said he was signing the bill because of its “overwhelming legislative support and my sincere and long-held pro-life convictions”.
Pro-life supporters were hoping this could be the next step in getting the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that protects a pregnant women’s right to choose whether to have an abortion or not without strict government restrictions.
Since becoming governor in 2015, Mr Hutchinson has signed several bills that restrict access to abortion services for residents of his state.
But the governor previously voiced concerns about the current bill, which would only allow the procedure if necessary to save the life of the woman. Abortion services would not be allowed for women in cases of rape or incest.
Mr Hutchinson again expressed his concerns about how far the bill went in a statement after signing the legislation, but that didn’t stop it from getting the governor’s signature.
“(The ban) is in contradiction of binding precedents of the US Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law,” he said in the statement. “I would have preferred the legislation to include the exceptions for rape and incest, which has been my consistent view, and such exceptions would increase the chances for a review by the US Supreme Court.”
The statewide ban was one of the most restrictive ones targeting abortion access across the United States, and it is pro-life advocates’ latest attempt in getting the US Supreme Court to repeal Roe v Wade.
“It’s time for [Roe v Wade] to be overturned in the Supreme Court,” state Representative Mary Bentley, a Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors, said after the GOP-led Arkansas House passed the piece of legislation.
With conservative Supreme Court justices holding a majority within the US Supreme Court, now was the time when Roe v Wade could face the possibility of being overturned since it was first ruled in 1973.
Pro-choice advocacy groups would likely challenge the Arkansas ban in court ahead of it taking effect across the state, with Planned Parenthood advocates based in the state calling the move “cynical” after it first passed through the House legislature.
“Despite the fact that Arkansas has the fourth-highest maternal mortality rate in the nation and has one of the highest recorded infant mortality rates, anti-abortion politicians are ramming through this flawed and dangerous legislation,” Gloria Pedro, an official with Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said at the time.
Alexis McGill Johnson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action, called the move from Mr Hutchinson “unacceptable” in a tweet on Tuesday after he signed the bill.
“The same politicians who are fixated on controlling our reproductive health care have spent the past year pushing back on scientific guidelines that will keep people safe and alive during a pandemic,” she wrote.
“Their hypocrisy is clear as day. Patients deserve better,” she continued.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas called the ban “cruel and unconstitutional”.
Prior to this bill, Arkansas already had strict abortion laws in place, which included preventing the procedure for most cases after the pregnant woman’s 20th week and requiring counselling services and wait periods ahead of the procedure. As of 2017, only four clinics that provided abortion services were available throughout the state for women to access, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Mr Hutchinson previously signed an abortion bill in 2019 that would ban abortion services for most pregnant women after 18 weeks of pregnancy, but that law was on hold due to legal challenges.
In 2021, 14 different state legislatures have introduced bills that would ban abortion services outright for pregnant women.