Arkansas attorney general implements state's abortion ban; governor hails court's decision

Governor Asa Hutchinson, left, and Matthew Shepherd, Speaker of the House, right, watch as Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas Attorney General, signs the official certification to prohibit abortions in Arkansas during a press conference in Little Rock on Friday, June 24, 2022. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Friday afternoon implemented a 2019 law that bans abortions in Arkansas, except to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency, after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier in the day overturned the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion across the country.

The Republican attorney general, who was flanked by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, certified that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling in accordance with Act 180 of 2019. This in turn certified Arkansas's Trigger Abortion law. 

“None of us thought today would come in our lifetimes,” Rutledge said to a crowd of media members and politicians. “Roe was wrong on that day and it has been wrong everyday since.” 

Hutchinson called the decision a turning point for the nation.

“The [Supreme] Court returned the issue of abortion to the states,” Hutchinson said. “Since Roe vs Wade was decided, the states that desired to protect unborn life had been prohibited from doing so.”

[DOCUMENT: Supreme Court opinion »]

The GOP-dominated Legislature and Gov. Asa Hutchinson enacted Act 180 in the 2019 regular session. Act 180, sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, is called the Arkansas Human Life Protection Act.

The 2019 law bars a person from purposely performing or attempting to perform an abortion except to save the life of pregnancy woman in a medical emergency. The law that was codified doesn’t include an exception for rape and incest. 

“As Governor I am gratified by the Court's decision because the people of Arkansas have declared a public policy of this state is to protect the life of the unborn,” he said. 

Hutchinson said the law will be enforced by the Department of Health and punishment will be focused on abortion providers not the women who seek it. 

“I will be directing the Arkansas Department of Health to enforce the law and to conduct the necessary inspections and certifications to ensure any abortion provider is in compliance with the law and understands and the penalties that are provided wherein,” he said. “Let me also emphasize this doesn’t put at risk access to contraceptives or other issues that are tangentially related.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ended constitutional protections for abortion in a decision by its conservative majority to overturn Roe v. Wade. Friday's outcome is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states, including in Arkansas. 

Arkansas already had a “trigger law” that states if Roe and a related court case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey were ever overturned, abortions would become illegal except in instances to save a pregnant person’s life.

[EXPLAINER: What overturning Roe v. Wade means for Arkansas »]

Act 180 of 2019 defines abortion as “the act of using, prescribing, administering, procuring or selling of any intrument, medicine, drug or any other substance, device or means with the purpose to terminate the pregnancy of a woman, with knowledge that the termination by any of those means will with reasonable likelihood cause the death of the unborn child.” Under this law, an act is not an abortion if the act is performed with the purposes to save the life or health of the unborn child, remove a dead unborn child caused by spontaneous aborton or to remove an actopic pregnancy.

Performing or attempting to perform an abortion is an unclassified felony with a fine not to exceed $100,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 10 years or both under Act 180.

Act 180 states that it does not authorize the charging or conviction of a woman with any criminal offense in the death of her own unborn child, or prohibit the sale, use, prescription or administration of a contraceptive measure, drug or chemical if the contraceptive measure, drug or chemical is administered before the time when a pregnancy could be determined through convention medical testing and, if the contraceptive measure, drug or chemical is sold, used, prescribed or administered in accordance with manufacturer instructions.

3:05 p.m.: Arkansas attorney general certifies 'trigger law' banning abortions in state

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Friday afternoon certified the state's abortion "trigger law," immediately outlawing all abortions in the state except to save the life of the mother.

Check back for further updates.

EARLIER: Arkansas attorney general to certify trigger law, discuss ruling's effect on state at 2 p.m.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Gov. Asa Hutchinson will hold a 2 p.m. news conference, during which Rutledge will certify the state's abortion "trigger law" and comment on the Supreme Court's decision Friday that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Check back to watch the live video.


Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade; states can ban abortion »

DOCUMENT: Supreme Court opinion »

EXPLAINER: What overturning Roe v. Wade means for Arkansas »