Right to Life lawyer sees abortion bill as concern

Co-chairman of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway,  is shown in this file photo.
Co-chairman of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, is shown in this file photo.

Legislation that would ban all but one reason for abortions in Arkansas has drawn opposition from an attorney for the National Right to Life Committee, who wrote to Gov. Asa Hutchinson last month expressing concerns that the bill could set back the anti-abortion movement.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette obtained a copy of the letter, dated Jan. 29, ahead of the first public hearing scheduled today on Senate Bill 6, a proposed ban on all abortions except those to save the life of a mother.

In the letter, attorney James Bopp of Indiana said the likelihood of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning its precedent upholding the right to an abortion is "very small and remote," and that an unsuccessful effort to re-litigate the issue could make it more difficult for lawmakers around the country to impose new restrictions on abortions.

"It is not at all clear that a majority exists on the Supreme Court for overruling [Roe vs. Wade]," Bopp wrote, referring to the nearly 50-year-old case in which the court determined a right exists for women to obtain abortions.

"Absent such a majority, a case directly challenging Roe risks yet another opinion reaffirming Roe and holding that it doesn't meet the Court's criteria for overruling precedents. ... In fact, trying to force an overruling of Roe without adequate incremental preparation actually risks pushing justices away from openness to overruling Roe," Bopp added.

Bopp, the general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee, said Tuesday that the letter represented his "personal legal view" and that the committee had not taken a position on the legislation.

Asked about the letter Tuesday, state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, the sponsor of SB6, dismissed its relevance and said he would hold a news conference today to roll out local support for the bill.

"People standing up and saying, 'Why we can't stop the slaughter of little babies,' which are now 62 million in this country, really don't speak for the pro-life movement in the country any more," Rapert said.

Rose Mimms, the executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, the national committee's state affiliate, said Tuesday that her organization supports SB6, adding that she has not received any pushback from the national organization over that position.

"This is a personal letter from Jim Bopp," Mimms said. "It's his opinion."

The national committee, along with its local affiliate in Tennessee, opposed similar legislation that was amended in that state two years ago to ban abortions once a pregnancy can be detected through a test, according to reports by The Tennessean. That bill failed to pass in Tennessee's Republican-controlled Legislature.

Bopp told a reporter Tuesday that his letter was written after a request from Hutchinson's office for an analysis of the bill. Bopp said that in a later conversation with Hutchinson, the governor appeared to agree with his analysis.

"I thought he did after I explained it to him," Bopp said.

In a statement released by his office Tuesday, Hutchinson declined to commit to signing or vetoing the bill, though he did address Bopp's letter.

"The letter was shared with Sen. Rapert and others to alert them to the concerns of the general counsel for National Right to Life," Hutchinson said. "I will continue to study the issue, but I have a number of concerns with SB6."

Bopp said he had no plans to travel to Arkansas to speak against SB6 in either the Senate or House committee hearings.

Holly Dickson, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said Tuesday that her group has already notified Rapert of its intent to file a legal challenge should SB6 become law.

"It's blatantly unconstitutional and another attack on Arkansans' health," Dickson said.

Arkansas currently prohibits abortions past the 20th week of pregnancy, one of the strictest laws in the country. The Legislature also approved a "trigger" law in 2019 that would place an outright ban on abortions in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade.

In describing his intent behind filing SB6 last year, Rapert said "this is the trigger" that he hoped would prompt the justices into reversing the precedent.

Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.