Activist group pushes to enshrine abortion rights in Arkansas constitution — By: Catholic News Agency

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CNA Staff, Nov 29, 2023 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

An activist group in Arkansas this week announced an effort to pass a state constitutional amendment protecting the right to abortion, with the southern state becoming the latest abortion battleground in the post-Roe v. Wade U.S. 

The group For AR People, which bills itself as working to “build a stronger state that works for everyone,” announced on Monday the formation of the group Arkansans for Limited Government in support of the Arkansas Reproductive Healthcare Amendment.

The amendment as currently written would forbid the state from restricting “access to abortion within 18 weeks of conception, or in cases of rape, incest, [and] in the event of a fatal fetal anomaly.” 

Abortion would also be permitted “to protect the pregnant female’s life or health,” the amendment says.

The amendment had been submitted to state Attorney General Tim Griffin for review earlier this month. On Tuesday the attorney general rejected the submission, saying in a decision that “ambiguities in the text of [the] proposed measure” could be misleading to voters.

The group will have to revise the proposal, Griffin said. Upon its acceptance by the attorney general’s office, activists will have to gather nearly 100,000 signatures by next July to ensure its placement on the 2024 ballot. 

In a statement shared with CNA, Arkansans for Limited Government said it “appreciate[d] the attorney general’s thorough review of and impartial response to the amendment’s language.” The group said it would “begin work immediately with the amendment drafter to craft a revised amendment.”

Pro-life groups, meanwhile, were speaking out against the measure this week. Arkansas Right to Life said in a statement shared with CNA on Tuesday that “the broadly written language [of the proposal] is so extreme that even pro-choice voters will see it goes too far.” 

“It clearly allows abortions up to the moment of birth and mandates that even the most basic limits on the profit-driven abortion industry are removed,” Executive Director Rose Mimms said. “The proposed constitutional amendment is not about limited government, it’s about forcing no-limit abortion on the people of Arkansas.”

David Cox, the assistant director of the Little Rock-based Family Council, told CNA via email that “if passed, the amendment’s language would effectively erase decades of good, pro-life laws.”

“For example, it would prevent Arkansas from requiring abortionists to have parental consent before performing an abortion on an underage girl,” he argued. “The amendment also could permit abortion in Arkansas through all nine months of pregnancy — including late-term abortion and partial-birth abortion.”

The amendment would allow the state General Assembly to “prohibit or restrict access to abortion only when it establishes a compelling government interest achieved by the least restrictive means.” 

The interest would be “compelling,” the language states, “only if it is for the purpose of protecting the health of an individual seeking access, does not infringe on the individual’s decision making, and is consistent with widely accepted clinical standards of practice and evidence-based medicine.”

Arkansas is one of several states in which abortion rights battles are playing out in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s repeal last year. 

Earlier in November, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot referendum that added a new right to “reproductive freedom,” including abortion and contraception, to the state constitution.

Activists in numerous other states including Arizona, Florida, and Nebraska are likewise pushing to amend their respective constitutions to protect abortion rights.

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