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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, is shown in this file photo.

State Capitol Republicans said last week that they're ready to propose a near-total ban on abortions, as many social conservatives muse that an upcoming vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court presents an opportunity they have sought for nearly a half century.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced Wednesday that he will retire July 31, had joined the high court's more liberal justices in a series of narrow opinions over the years to uphold abortion rights, legalize gay marriage and end mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders. His announcement immediately prompted speculation that those opinions could be reversed should a fifth solidly-conservative justice be confirmed to the court.

In Arkansas, the most immediate reaction to Kennedy's announcement came from anti-abortion lawmakers and advocates for legal access to abortion, which is more limited in the state than almost anywhere else in the nation.

Within 24 hours of the news, several lawmakers said they were preparing to take the next steps toward ending almost all abortions in the state.

"I have a bill for that," tweeted state Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, on Thursday morning.

"I'm in," responded state Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado.

Arkansas law already restricts abortion past the 20th week of pregnancy. The last time the Legislature met in regular session, in 2017, a series of bills passed with the support of the conservative Family Council with the intent to make Arkansas the "No. 1 pro-life" state.

Court challenges have blocked the implementation of several of Arkansas' laws. One -- a 2015 law requiring doctors who perform pill-induced abortions to have a contract with a second doctor who has hospital admitting privileges -- is under a temporary stay by a federal judge. The law is being challenged by Planned Parenthood, which says it will have to stop performing abortions at its clinics in Little Rock and Fayetteville if the law is allowed to take effect.

That would leave one clinic in the state, Little Rock Family Planning Services, to perform abortions.

In a phone call Thursday, Ballinger said a draft version of his bill would allow abortions only when the life of the mother is at risk, but would not include exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

Groups defending abortion rights, including Planned Parenthood Great Plains and the American Civil Liberties Union, issued remarks reminding their supporters what is at stake with a shake-up on the court.

"With Justice Kennedy's retirement, the future of Roe v. Wade is definitely at risk," wrote ACLU Arkansas President Rita Sklar in an email, referring to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteeing women the right to an abortion. "But Rep. Ballinger will have a hard time in Arkansas because most Arkansans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, and none of us want to go back to the days when women were forced into childbirth, or died in back alley abortions."

According to the Department of Health, there were 3,249 abortions performed in Arkansas last year, up slightly from 2016.

The Arkansas Legislature is not currently in session and is not scheduled to meet until the 2019 regular session, when Ballinger said he hoped to run his bill.

While Democrats have called upon the U.S. Senate to stall the confirmation process until after the November elections, Republicans have control of the chamber, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he wants a nominee confirmed by the fall.

President Donald Trump has not named his pick to succeed Kennedy, a decision that could affect how leaders in Arkansas proceed.

Trump told reporters Friday that he would announce his selection on July 9 and that he was considering about five candidates, including two women. The president also said he wasn't going to ask candidates if they would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"I'm not interested in passing a law that will be declared unconstitutional," said Ballinger, who is an attorney. However, he explained that he might alter his legislation -- a draft of which he declined to share -- or not run it at all if a more centrist judge is chosen.

If Trump's choice of a judge opposes abortion, as he promised during his presidential campaign, an Arkansas law banning abortion would likely prompt an immediate challenge that could become a conduit for the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in Roe v. Wade, Ballinger said.

Despite the excitement among social conservatives, some stalwarts of anti-abortion policies said they'd wait until a new justice is seated before developing their next legislative action.

"Many of us who have been around this a while know it's no sure thing," said Jerry Cox, the president of the Family Council. "I do expect a very heated battle over this nominee because those on the left know how much this means."

In addition to upholding abortion access, Kennedy and the court's liberal justices joined together several times to expand gay rights, including the right to marry.

"I am terrified, absolutely terrified," said Cheryl K. Maples, an attorney in Heber Springs who has represented numerous gay Arkansans in civil-rights cases, including a 2014 challenge to the state's ban on same-sex marriage that was briefly struck down by a Little Rock circuit judge.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in every state in the country the next year by Kennedy's opinion in the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges. In that decision, Kennedy joined Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, who are often considered the four liberal justices on the court.

More recently, in 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a 6-3 decision that Arkansas must automatically print the names of both parents in a same-sex couple on their child's birth certificate. Chief Justice John Roberts, who remains on the court, joined Kennedy and the liberal justices in that decision.

Maples said she was not concerned about a potential reversal of the court's landmark gay marriage decision, saying, "The cat's out of the bag," but she said a more conservative court could erode protections in other areas, such as employment or housing discrimination.

But the Arkansas Constitution is written to ban gay marriage, leaving open the possibility that a reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court could end further gay marriage in Arkansas without any action by the Legislature.

"It's only because of Obergefell that our state law and constitutional amendment are not enforceable," Ballinger said.

Kennedy joined the court's four more liberal judges in the 2012 decision Miller v. Alabama, that declared that mandatory life sentences for juveniles violated the U.S. Constitution. That decision helped get a new sentence for an Arkansas co-defendant in the case, Kuntrell Jackson, and prompted the Legislature to overwhelmingly pass the Fair Sentencing of Minors Act in 2017, after failing to do so just two years previously.

"I would not want to change everything that we fought for to get that enacted," said state Rep. Rebecca Petty, R-Rogers, an advocate for victims' rights who dropped her opposition in order to sponsor the 2017 law. "There are so many people that [the law] touched on the positive and the negative."

Asked about the possibility of mounting a challenge to Roe v. Wade, legislative leaders and Gov. Asa Hutchinson were quick last week to point out their opposition to abortion, but none offered comment on legislation they said they had not seen.

In a statement, Hutchinson said he supported a reversal to Roe v. Wade that would leave it up to the states to decide on their own abortion rules.

What remains unclear is how Democrats, looking to reverse their own depleted ranks in the state Capitol, will address Kennedy's departure in their campaigns to defeat Republicans such as Hutchinson and Ballinger.

The newly appointed House minority leader, state Rep. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, said the party would not prioritize issues already decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. That opinion contrasted with other outspoken Democrats, such as a former minority leader, state Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville.

"The Supreme Court movement has been a wake-up call," Leding said.

Photo by Democrat-Gazette file photo
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, is shown in this file photo.
Photo by Democrat-Gazette file photo
ACLU of Arkansas President Rita Sklar is shown in this file photo.
Photo by Cary Jenkins
Jerry Cox
Photo by AP file photo
Attorney Cheryl Maples is shown in this file photo.

SundayMonday on 07/01/2018

Print Headline: Kennedy exit puts target on abortion; State legislators say ban odds up


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  • Nodmcm
    July 1, 2018 at 6:33 a.m.

    They have to get rid of birth control along with abortion if they want to put women back in the kitchen. If they want women out of the boardrooms, courtrooms, classrooms and offices in Arkansas, eliminating women's ability to control their number of births will make all Arkansas women just like Michelle Duggar, pregnant most of the time and unable to work outside the home. So abortion will soon be illegal in Arkansas, and then birth control will be next. Then we will have huge families in Arkansas, just like the old days, and women will be just like they were in 1935, housewives and mothers with lots and lots of children.

  • WGT
    July 1, 2018 at 7:53 a.m.

    Republican politicians who willfully enact laws to restrict health care for humans because of religious beliefs are sick. A woman’s health shall not be determined by a religiously addled, medically ignorant, high and mighty, grossly indignant, pompous nincompoops.

  • Knuckleball1
    July 1, 2018 at 9:36 a.m.

    These IDIOTS want to be God in the Worst way.... anyone that Puts these slobs back in Office should not open their mouth when they are turned on and it will eventually happen. The more Power they get the Bigger their Heads get and most have bigger heads now than brains...

  • Skeptic1
    July 1, 2018 at 11:02 a.m.

    Considering the number of lawyers in the State House these are particularly idiotic statements. Roe v Wade was the result of many other prior privacy rights cases that paved the way for Roe. Consequently, there have been many other privacy cases decided after Roe and if Roe was overturned it would overturn many that came before and after, that will not happen. Roe is well established law and was decided as a fundamental right to privy, there is no precedent for SCOTUS to remove a fundamental right from the largest segment of the population. Griswold v. Connecticut (Birth control) was one of the privacy cases before Roe that could be overturned if Roe is overturned and we know there is no way in Heck that would fly. We go through this nonsense every election cycle because both sides use the issue so freely because they know the law will remain regardless of who sits on the Court.

  • 23cal
    July 1, 2018 at 11:03 a.m.

    Rita Sklar in an email ".... none of us want to go back to the days when women were forced into childbirth, or died in back alley abortions."
    Look out, Rita, your humanity is showing. These religious nuts think dying from a back alley abortion is appropriate punishment for wanting control of your own body. Forcing them into childbirth is a perfectly acceptable alternative to death, though.
    "The president also said he wasn't going to ask candidates if they would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade." Why bother asking when their position is already known, nudge nudge wink wink. The absurdity of this whitewashing is clear a couple of sentences later: "..... Trump's choice of a judge opposes abortion, as he promised during his presidential campaign."
    "I'm not interested in passing a law that will be declared unconstitutional," said Ballinger" Why change your established pattern, Bob? I'm calling shenanigans.
    "In a statement, Hutchinson said he supported a reversal to Roe v. Wade that would leave it up to the states to decide on their own abortion rules." What a great way to discriminate against poor women who cannot afford to take off work and go to another state. Pure Republicanism, this is.

  • Arkie2017
    July 1, 2018 at 11:23 a.m.

    What saddens me the most about this is that banning or criminalizing abortions....again.....will lead to more misery and death just like it did prior to Roe v Wade. It doesn't stop abortions, it drives them underground which was why we changed things back then. The right wing people who oppose abortions claim to be so pro life when what they really are is anti-abortion because when asked if they would help these pregnant women or care for the unwanted children they turn their backs. This was a promise extracted from Trump by the hard right Evangelical radicals to look the other way with regards to everything else he does that they supposedly oppose for religious reasons. A nationwide ban on abortion is their price to stay supportive of him. So, women once again will pay the price. There is also a move to take birth control out of our reach as well. Apparently none of these men like sex much. And for a political party who's so opposed to the "browning" of America, they sure don't seem to want to get rid of any that will be born as a consequence of their actions but then they never do look that far ahead as to the ramifications of anything they do they just do what their masters tell them and never look back or ahead. I suppose it's easier on what little conscience they still have.

  • JA40
    July 1, 2018 at 11:25 a.m.

    I agree with every one of you. AND there will be a ton of unwanted babies delivered, so I hope these bozos are ready to adopt a few. Oh, I forgot. They don't wanna do that.

  • Arkie2017
    July 1, 2018 at 11:30 a.m.

    To Skeptic1 - I love your comments on how overturning Roe would undo cases before and afterwards and how entrenched it is in the law these days but in case you haven't noticed, this current Court doesn't seem to care much about the law or the Constitutional rights of privacy. They ruled in one case based on snarky comments and ignored snarky comments as the reason for their decision in another so I highly doubt they will take all that you wrote into consideration. I would however love to be surprised by them but GOP are way too confident with the retirement of Kennedy and Trump's next appointee which will receive the fast track treatment under McConnell unlike his treatment of Obama appointees that they will pick an anti=abortion judge and a young one at that so they will have him for a very, very long time. Even if GOP goes out of power, they will have set the stage to litigate what they will no longer be able to legislate, just need to litigate with an eye on getting a particular issue before SCOTUS.

  • mrcharles
    July 1, 2018 at 12:24 p.m.

    Does gutting a pregnant woman with a sword qualify as abortion.?

    I note there was no requirement that swordsman having admitting privilege at local witchdoctor house

  • RBear
    July 1, 2018 at 12:35 p.m.

    skeptic calling it when I see it. Great points and we agree. Thanks for sharing that insight. Couldn't have said it better.