By: Joshua Hale
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily
reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.
In 1973, the United States Supreme Court held that the constitutional right to privacy extends to protect a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Forty-nine years later, on June 24, 2022, our modern-day Supreme Court in Dobbs. v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, No. 19-1392, 597 U.S. ____ (2022), overturned Roe v. Wade holding that the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, and this power must be reverted to the states. Following the court’s ruling, Arkansas’s attorney general certified a “trigger” ban, prohibiting all abortions except those to save the life of a pregnant person. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-61-301 to – 304 (2020).
Following Arkansas’s “trigger” ban and amid the ongoing political controversies regarding women’s reproductive rights, the state’s legislative body passed Act 310 to solidify the state’s updated position on abortion. Act 310, formally State Bill 307, was introduced to the state’s senate in late February of 2023 by Senator Kim Hammer, R- Benton, made its way with ease to the desk of Governor Sanders and was signed before the end of March. The act commissions the creation of “a monument to the unborn; on state capitol grounds;” in memory of the unborn children aborted in Arkansas during the 49 years under Roe v. Wade. The act commissions the creation of a fund – made of donations and grants, under the Secretary of State that “shall be used exclusively for the purpose of erecting and maintain a suitable monument to on the State Capitol Grounds.” Ark. Code Ann. §§ 19-5-1158(a) – (c) (2023). Along with tasking the Secretary of State with the responsibility of approving the artist, the monument’s design, location, and replacement or repair. Ark. Code Ann. §§ 22-3-223(b) – (c) (2023)
Although Act 310 appears on its face to be a “BareBones” act, the construction of such a memorial is a physical manifestation of the state political majority’s stance on abortion. The Act is a stone-cold slap in the face to state representatives actively working for inter party cooperation on hot button issues relating to women’s health. Republicans and Democrats in the United States are further apart ideologically on hot-button issues than ever before, Arkansas is no exception. Further steps taken to enforce Act 310 threaten to have irreversible effects on the state political landscape.
Arkansas Republicans are approaching the end of their ninth year controlling the state’s political trifecta House, Senate, and Governor. With an 82 to 18 majority over House Democrats, and a 29 to 6 seat majority in the state Senate, Republicans maintain the largest majority in the last 20 years and seek to create a permanent reminder of their idealistic control through Act 310. Although the State Republicans control 82% of the seats in our legislature, the four most populated counties, Pulaski, Benton, Washington, and Sebastian County, which hold over a third of the state’s population are predominantly represented by the Democratic minority. The Arkansas Legislative majority fails to reflect the diverse demographics of our state. This lack of representation undermines the voices and needs of various communities and complicates the cooperation of those elected to serve the citizens of Arkansas.
House Representative Steve Ungar, R-Springdale, and House Representative Jeremiah Moore R-Clarendon voted alongside 17 of the 18 house democrats in opposition to Act 310. Unger argued that a public memorial to our nation’s wars was proper, however, act 310 represents “A memorial to an ongoing culture war where we seem to be shooting at each other is not [proper].” Representative Moore argued the monument “will serve as a poke in the eye to those who do not share our beliefs.” Both Republicans argued that the memorial monument would not be an effective use of time and resources.
By imposing restrictions on women’s access to reproductive healthcare under the state’s “trigger” ban, the monument will further polarize the population and create a contentious issue without cause. Such polarization will make it more challenging for politicians to find common ground and work together on other issues facing the state. It is crucial during a time of such political polarization to foster open dialogue and seek solutions that promote the unity of our state rather than division. There is little time and resources to expend on lawmakers who wish to gloat and mock in the face of opposing political views.
Rather than commission a fund for the creation of a politically polarized lightning rod in the middle of the most diverse and politically progressive city in the state, lawmakers should focus their efforts on creating funds for women’s health clinics and promoting education and awareness about new women’s reproductive health laws across the state.