Arkansas May See Abortion Rights Put To A Vote

An initiative is currently in progress to address this issue and provide Arkansas voters with an opportunity to incorporate certain abortion protections into the state Constitution. If successful, Arkansas would join a select group of conservative states that have sought to involve voters in the decision-making process on this matter.

Activists are utilizing a ballot measure in their endeavor to achieve a change that has proven to be unattainable thus far in the General Assembly.

The proposed constitutional amendment, initiated by citizens, aims to legalize abortion up until 18 weeks of pregnancy. It also allows for abortion in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal anomaly, and when there is a risk to the life or health of the mother.

According to Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, the constitution of Arkansas stands out from other Southern states in terms of its ease of amendment. She states that Arkansas has a direct democracy route, which makes its constitution one of the simplest to amend.

Gennie Diaz leads Arkansas for Limited Government, the organization dedicated to putting the item on the November ballot.

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Referring to the court case that led to Roe’s fall, she expressed, “We couldn’t have accomplished it in our state before Dobbs.”

In this extraordinary political moment, Arkansans for Limited Government, a group that recently organized a rally at the state Capitol, is gaining momentum for their proposed amendment.

They are moving forward with the certification of their measure and are determined to present it directly to the voting public.

A national trend

Arkansas’ amendment is one of 12 prospective ballot initiatives throughout the country aiming to safeguard or increase access to reproductive care in November, with another five attempting to restrict abortion.

These will be the first questions about whether to entrench abortion rights since last year in Ohio, another red state, where a constitutional amendment preserving abortion access passed 56.6% to 43.4%.

According to Pew Research Center polling data, Arkansas is one of the top three most conservative states aiming to put abortion-related issues on the ballot this cycle, along with Montana and South Dakota.

All of the 91,000 signatures required for the Arkansas Amendment are being collected by volunteers. Diaz stated that they have trained approximately 350 people thus far. They’ve largely gathered signatures through online outreach and canvassing in public places, both inside and outside of companies that allow it.

They haven’t gone door to door yet, in part because the distances are inconvenient, especially in rural communities. They also want to avoid any potential confrontation with people who reject their legislation.

If and when they receive the required signatures, the next step is to submit them to the state. “Every signature is scrutinized,” Diaz explained, and compared to each person’s residence and voter registration status.

If enough signatures are rejected that the total number of signatures on the ballot falls below the threshold, groups have a period of time to “cure” them—or remedy any errors that may have led to their disqualification.

Arkansas Right to Life and the Family Council have organized “decline to sign” campaigns against the abortion amendment. According to Diaz, only five state lawmakers have spoken out against them.

‘Not a political statement’

Diaz and Arkansans for Limited Government have revised their goals, aiming for a more attainable amendment that has a higher chance of success.

According to Diaz, the proposed policy is not intended to make a political statement on abortion. It does not aim to advocate for unrestricted access to abortion under any circumstances, based on the belief that women have an inherent right to choose.

Diaz expressed his belief that the policy, although supported by some, would not be able to pass in Arkansas due to pragmatic reasons.

The proposed amendment aims to legalize abortion in specific circumstances and establish certain exemptions.

According to Parry, a political science professor, the amendment can be seen as relatively moderate. She mentioned, “They’re not going all out with this amendment.” She further explained that the proponents of the amendment conducted polls and decided to limit its scope to the early months of pregnancy.

According to Parry, the director of the university’s Arkansas Poll, the amendment will likely be approved if it is included on the ballot.

Support for Arkansas’ abortion ban, which only allows exceptions for medical emergencies, has consistently polled between 15% and 20% in recent years.

According to her, those who oppose the abortion amendment face higher stakes politically compared to those advocating for it.

According to her, numerous provisions of the amendment enjoy widespread support, including “supermajorities,” when it comes to safeguarding abortion rights in situations involving fetal malformations and the health of the mother.

“We need to convince the majority of Arkansans that they are not alone in their nuanced views,” Diaz emphasized. “There seems to be a fear that they are the only ones with a different perspective, but that’s not the case.”

Parry mentioned that the amendment lacks provisions for exceptions, such as financial hardship, which she believes are not widely supported. She also mentioned that the writers of the amendment were considerate of public opinion and its nuances.

County by county

Act 236, a significant amendment that was passed last year, has introduced a major change to the process. According to this new law, signatures must now be obtained from 50 of the state’s 75 counties, as opposed to the previous requirement of just 15 counties stated in the state constitution.

A court challenge by the League of Women Voters of Arkansas is currently questioning the constitutionality of the law. The organization supports an initiative that aims to eliminate state sales tax on menstrual products and diapers. Republican state Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, joins them as a co-plaintiff and expresses his support for another new initiative. He hopes to see this initiative on the ballot in November, as it aims to protect and strengthen Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act.

Parry noted that Act 236 aims to raise the standards for placing a measure on the ballot. However, it has also heightened the commitment of individuals who are eager to gather signatures, motivating them to ensure accuracy and precision in their efforts.

According to her, this situation compels them to focus more on building organizing power in areas where they usually don’t have to put in as much effort. Although it requires additional work, she believes it is achievable.

“I see it as an opportunity because we should be engaging with the people of Arkansas on this matter,” she expressed. “This is something that needs to happen, regardless of our goal to have it on the ballot.”

“We carry a significant burden and responsibility in educating the people of Arkansas about reproductive health,” she emphasized. She pointed out the absence of mandatory sex education in schools in Arkansas, highlighting the need for comprehensive education in this vital area.

According to Katie Clark, a board member of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas and leader of an initiative campaign, even if a ballot item fails, it can still be valuable in terms of raising awareness and educating the public, as long as it is executed properly.

According to her, a robust and prominent demonstration of public support has the potential to bring about significant changes in upcoming legislative sessions.

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