The Arkansas State Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee recommended the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 6 on Wednesday, a near total abortion ban which will join a host of other states’ legislation with the ultimate goal of forcing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of abortion.
SB6, introduced by Faulkner County’s own State Sen. Jason Rapert, passed the senate committee in a unanimous vote on Wednesday after a presentation by Rapert. Its passage was almost assured due to the fact that seven of the eight members of the committee considering SB6 were co-sponsors of it.
In his presentation to the committee, Rapert likened the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision to rule abortion as constitutional to previous Supreme Court rulings which have been overturned, including the Dred Scott decision which denied citizenship to African Americans.
“[Previous overturned supreme court rulings] are important to note because some would say: ‘Why would you bring a bill to abolish abortion when [its 1973 ruling as constitutional] has set precedent,’” Rapert said. “The [Supreme Court] has overturned very old precedents before when they see a compelling reason to do so.”
In further presentation, Rapert cited the text of his bill which stated that scientific evidence demonstrated that human life began at conception and said that SB6 is the final piece of Arkansas’ years-long effort to enact pro-life policies. Rapert himself has brought forward multiple bills which whittled away at Arkansans’ abortion rights, going all the way back to the 2013 Human Heartbeat Protection Act.
SB6’s text is almost identical to a bill which passed the 2019 session of the General Assembly which served as a trigger bill that would immediately ban abortions in the state if the Supreme Court ruled abortions as unconstitutional. In SB6, all abortions, except those which are completed to save the life of a pregnant mother, would be banned and the penalty for performing an abortion could include up to $100,000 in fines or 10 years in prison.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas released a statement in opposition to Rapert’s bill after he filed it in November.
“Once again, legislation has been filed in Arkansas to interfere with people’s lives, intrude on their rights to make their own personal medical decisions, and try to block them from care,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said. “[SB6] is an outright abortion ban that is cruel and blatantly unconstitutional.”
With the bill’s passage out of the senate committee, SB6 is scheduled for a final senate floor vote on Monday. If it passes, the bill will be transmitted to the State House for its consideration.
The Arkansas State Senate also censured State Sen. Stephanie Flowers, a democrat who represents Pine Bluff, this week for her remarks about fellow senator Trent Garner on Tuesday. During debate on Senate Concurrent Resolution 6, a resolution which would “commemorate American history” that failed, Flowers described Garner as a dumba--. The censure of Flowers for the expletive passed 25-4 on Wednesday and included her suspension from committee duties for three days next week.
In the State House of Representatives, one well-known bill crashed out of committee on Tuesday. House Bill (HB) 1231, which would prohibit the use of public-school funds to teach The New York Times’ 1619 Project at schools in the state. The 1619 Project is a curriculum curated by The New York Times which centers slavery and the contribution of African Americans at the heart of its history curriculum.
HB1231, sponsored by Rep. Mark Lowery of Maumelle, failed on a voice vote. At last Monday’s school board meeting, Conway Public Schools Superintendent Greg Murry spoke against the bill and said he thought any state intervention in schools’ curriculum choices set a bad precedent. After the failure of HB1231, Lowery pulled another bill, HB1218, which attempted to limit course offerings that had to do with social justice initiatives.
A final piece of legislation from this week, SB289, passed the state senate in a 27-6 vote on Thursday. SB289 proposes to allow health care professionals a “right of conscience” and gives them the opportunity to decline to participate in a health service if it violates their conscience. While the bill’s language is somewhat unclear of what health services could be affected by a health care worker’s “right of conscience,” the bill specifically notes that the “right of conscience” does not allow the right to deny emergency medical care.