A bill that would bring Texas’ new abortion law to Arkansas has already been drafted and will be introduced in a special legislative session in the coming weeks, the sponsor of Arkansas’ current abortion ban said.
Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, told me Wednesday night that he decided not to file the bill during the current legislative session because it didn’t fit the resolution that extended it. Lawmakers met during the spring as usual in odd-numbered years. However, they couldn’t complete their required redrawing of the state’s congressional districts because census numbers weren’t available. They decided to recess and then return to discuss only redistricting and COVID.
However, Gov. Asa Hutchinson is calling a special session after this session ends to reduce the state’s top income tax rate. That’s when Rapert plans to introduce his bill.
If Hutchinson doesn’t include abortion on his “call,” then Rapert would need two-thirds support among lawmakers for it to be considered.
“I can’t imagine that we don’t,” he said. “You’ve seen the votes on the past bills we’ve had.”
Arkansas was called the most pro-life state by Americans United for Life late last year, and Rapert, who is running for lieutenant governor, has been a big reason why. This year he sponsored a law that would make all abortions illegal except when the mother’s life or health are endangered. That law was blocked by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker this summer. In 2019, he sponsored a law that would end abortions in Arkansas if the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
His new bill will be based on Texas’ abortion law. That law bans all abortions once cardiac activity can be detected at about six weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions to save the mother’s life or prevent major health problems. It enforces that law by allowing individuals to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” one, regardless of whether or not they have a connection with the situation, and be awarded $10,000 by the defendant.
Rapert said his bill is “pretty close” to Texas’. He said there’s been some discussion about incorporating the civil lawsuit aspect with Arkansas’ existing abortion ban, which means Arkansas’ law would go farther than Texas’ does. But he might need a new bill because of Judge Baker’s injunction. He will attach an emergency clause to the bill, meaning it would go into effect once passed.
Courts routinely block state laws that restrict abortions more than Roe v. Wade allows. But on Sept. 1, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to do so with Texas’ law. In a 5-4 decision, it cited legal procedural grounds without ruling on the law’s constitutionality.
Opponents could challenge the law in other ways, but that will take time. In the meantime, Texas abortion providers have stopped performing many abortions. Texas Right to Life says more than 100 abortions have been prevented every day. Meanwhile, some women are traveling to other states. A New York Times article published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said Texas patients compose 19 percent of Little Rock Family Planning Services’ caseload, after they were less than 2 percent in August. Rapert said Arkansas shouldn’t be a “haven of choice” for abortion seekers.
The Biden administration is suing Texas over the law. President Joe Biden said it creates “a sort of vigilante system.” In her dissent on the Supreme Court’s decision, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the law “deputized the State’s citizens as bounty hunters.”
Rapert rejected those notions, saying abortion rights supporters often use such terms “to sensationalize the language and try to convince you that somehow we’re bad for wanting to save babies’ lives.”
Allowing citizens to sue each other to enforce a law expands the legal concept of “standing.” Typically, lawsuits are brought by someone who was harmed by another’s actions. Could Texas’ abortion law create a precedent, leading to more and more lawsuits for more and more reasons?
Asked about those concerns, Rapert said the Texas law, and his, are responses to an overreaching federal government that has overturned the wishes of states like Arkansas. When that happens, he said, lawmakers will get creative.
“If I had my way I’d go board up the abortion clinic in west Little Rock this weekend and be done with it because that’s what the people of Arkansas want, but I’m working within a system, and we respect the fact we passed laws, they get struck down, we come at it again,” he said.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 16 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.