- In the year since the US Supreme Court took away the constitutional right to an abortion, Arkansans have begun to feel the consequences of losing their ability to make private healthcare decisions.
- The ARLeg refused to pass several bills that would clarify what “medical emergency” means in the abortion context or protect women seeking abortions in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities.
- AG Tim Griffin wants to track Arkansans who travel out of state seeking health care in an extreme violation of our right to privacy.
It’s been just over a year since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson. Today, we’re going to look at what that decision has meant for Arkansas’s women. We want to be clear: abortion is health care, and the data and doctors back this up. What we mean here is simple: far from being a method of birth control, abortion is used to treat any number of common pregnancy complications, both physical and mental. It’s used to manage miscarriages or prevent parents from going through the pain of having to deliver a child with a fatal fetal abnormality.
We understand and accept that many Arkansans are uncomfortable with or opposed to abortion, but we hope that Arkansans will keep an open mind as we detail the devastating effect this decision has had on the state.
Abortion in Arkansas before Dobbs
Before Dobbs, patients had to visit a clinic at least twice and wait 72 hours between clinic visits to obtain an abortion procedure. If the patient was over seventeen weeks pregnant, the law required at least three visits. Patients under 18 years of age had to get either parental consent or a judicial bypass. Ultrasounds before the procedure were required, and after 20 weeks, patients could obtain abortions only in situations where the life of the woman was endangered or in cases of rape or incest (which required the person to report the crime to police, which can be burdensome and traumatic).
Not exactly easy, but legally and theoretically obtainable. In 2017, there were about 3,200 abortions performed in four clinics across the state. This is roughly equal to the approximately 3,100 abortions performed in 2021, the year before Dobbs came down, despite the Arkansas Legislature passing into law Act 309 which attempted to ban nearly all abortions before being struck down by federal judge Kristine G. Baker as unconstitutional under Roe.
We think it’s clear that Arkansans relied on their constitutional right to make their own healthcare decisions prior to Dobbs striking down Roe. While 3,100 abortions is a rather small percentage among Arkansas’s 3,000,000 citizens, it’s obvious that it’s an important option for Arkansans. Despite the difficulty in accessing this care, people did.
Now, they can’t, and the government has vastly overreached by banning the right of Arkansans to make private healthcare decisions.
Abortion in Arkansas After Dobbs
In 2019, Arkansas passed SB149, a so-called trigger law that would immediately ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Last year, this law went into effect.
The law is, to put it mildly, harsh and retributive. Rep. Mary Bentley, the law’s sponsor in the House, attempted to justify the bill’s negative healthcare consequences by appealing to “miracles” she’d seen in her time at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. It contains no exceptions for rape and incest and only allows an abortion to save the life of the mother in a “medical emergency.” We don’t doubt the veracity of Bentley’s faith, but it’s unconstitutional and anti-American to impose that worldview on the rest of us.
There have been some efforts to alleviate the burden this places on Arkansas mothers, like Rep. Nicole Clowney’s proposed bill that would allow abortions in cases of fatal fetal anomalies. The bill never even made it out of committee, forcing prospective parents to carry fetuses that will never survive to term, like in Texas.
The owner of the last abortion clinic to operate in Arkansas, Dr. Tom Tvedten, still does his best to provide reproductive healthcare to Arkansans under the new law. The clinic provides family planning and contraception, a space for the Arkansas Abortion Support Network to operate, and medical marijuana.
In contrast, GOP Rep. Steve Womack attempted to make abortion felony murder. What a stark difference. It’s hard to even know what to say to a bill like that, and we’re so grateful that the legislature did the right thing for once and killed the bill.
Abortion in Arkansas, moving forward
Until we balance the legislature and repeal our draconian abortion laws, there’s not a lot to be done, other than donating to the Arkansas Abortion Support Network.
AG Griffin has also signed on to a letter advocating a removal of privacy protections for people who travel outside the state to access abortion. This would be a huge invasion of privacy and would explicitly go against the federal right to travel between states. It’s so anti-American that Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in his concurring opinion overturning Roe, specifically stated that he believed travel bans and limitations would be unconstitutional.
This would be government overreach at the expense of personal freedom on a new scale, full stop. We’re watching this closely.
It’s not good out there for folks who need abortions. But all is not yet lost. The longer we live under these abortion bans, the more people will wake up to the need for reproductive health care and we can begin to roll back the bans.
Arkansans believe in the right to make their own healthcare decisions. The current legislative supermajority doesn’t. We think that goes against our values as a state.
For AR People is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advances a responsible democracy in Arkansas by educating the public about issues that impact our daily lives and holding politicians accountable.