Abortion word games
On Tuesday, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin (R) rejected the language of a proposed ballot amendment that would repeal the state’s abortion ban. The measure, if approved, would prohibit the state from restricting abortions “within 18 weeks of conception." It would also protect the right to abortion "in cases of rape, incest… fatal fetal anomaly,” or if necessary to protect the health or life of the pregnant woman. Arkansas law, which went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, currently prohibits all abortions absent a life-threatening emergency.
Griffin released a seven-page statement outlining his objections to the language of the proposed amendment. His statement argues that the amendment contains “ambiguities in the text.” Griffin raises numerous pedantic objections, claiming the language is confusing or unclear. Other concerns raised by Griffin appear to have more validity. But instead of substituting clarifying language, which he could do under Arkansas law, Griffin is requiring that the amendment be rewritten and resubmitted. Griffin claims the true intent of the amendment is so ambiguous it is not possible for him to fix it.
Among Griffin’s critiques is the proposed name of the amendment: the Arkansas Reproductive Healthcare Amendment. Griffin argues that the name “is tinged with partisan coloring and misleading because [the] proposal is solely related to abortion, not ‘reproductive healthcare’ generally.” Griffin also objects to language in the amendment stating that the government “shall not prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict access to abortion within 18 weeks of conception.” Griffin states that the phrase “access to abortion” is confusing and could be “misleading” because it is not clear if the “intent” is to “limit government action regarding abortion itself or regarding access to abortion.”
In order for the proposed amendment to appear on the ballot for the 2024 general election, Arkansans for Limited Government, which drafted the amendment, is “required to submit 90,704 registered voters’ signatures to the secretary of state’s office by July 5, 2024,” including “signatures from registered voters in at least 50 of the state’s 75 counties.” Griffin’s rejection will make it more difficult for Arkansans for Limited Government to secure the necessary signatures before the deadline, as the group cannot begin to collect signatures until Griffin approves the measure. Griffin took nearly three weeks to issue his rejection after the group originally submitted the proposed amendment.
Griffin’s statement also takes issue with the phrase “when abortion is needed to protect the pregnant female’s life or health,” claiming the meaning is “unclear.” Griffin argues that because the term “health” is not defined, it is unclear if it refers to physical or mental health. Griffin also objects to the use of the phrase “incompatible with life outside the womb” when defining the exception for fatal fetal anomalies. Griffin argues that the “core meaning of this phrase seems clear enough,” but that the use of the phrase in the amendment “suggests you may intend to cover more situations.”
Griffin’s statement additionally criticizes the amendment for using the phrase “18 weeks of conception,” arguing that the phrase is confusing because “most court cases, medical providers, and most citizens count the weeks of pregnancy using gestational age.” Gestational age counts from the date of the last menstrual cycle instead of the date of conception. Because of this, Griffin argues that the amendment effectively protects abortion for 20 weeks instead of 18 weeks. Griffin states that the “difference in timing could be misleading to voters and would certainly give them serious ground for reflection.”
In a statement, Arkansans for Limited Government said that it “will begin work immediately with the amendment drafter to craft a revised amendment,” stating they are “committed to supporting a ballot proposal that is clear for Arkansas voters.”
Griffin's vehement opposition to abortion rights
Griffin has long been hostile to abortion rights. In July, the attorney general opposed a proposed federal rule that would shield the medical records of those who legally obtain out-of-state abortions from state law enforcement. “The proposed rule would…curtail the ability of state officials to obtain evidence of potential violations of state laws,” Griffin and 18 other state attorney generals argued in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Previously, Griffin led a coalition of states to file amicus briefs in defense of abortion bans in West Virginia and Arizona. Griffin also boasts that he joined other attorney generals in defending Ohio’s Heartbeat Act, supporting a federal judge’s decision to suspend the FDA’s approval of abortion medication, and pressuring Walgreens into not dispensing abortion medication in certain states.
Meanwhile, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R), an ardent opponent of abortion rights, supported the attorney general’s decision to reject the proposed ballot amendment language. “The Left wants the government to play doctor when it comes to gender science experiments on kids and vaccine mandates but apparently draws the line when government prevents the taking of an innocent human life,” a spokesperson for the governor told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Governor Sanders is proud that Arkansas is the most pro-life state in the country and intends to keep it that way."
Recently, Sanders signed a bill to build a “monument to unborn children” at the State Capitol. In March, the governor also signed a law that increased the number of signatures required for a ballot initiative, an attempt to block the push for abortion ballot measures. (Notably, Arkansas voters had previously rejected the new requirements in 2020 and 2022 at the ballot box.)
Red states vote to protect abortion rights
Since the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, voters have overwhelmingly supported ballot measures that affirm abortion rights. This month, voters in Ohio approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to an abortion, making it the seventh state since the fall of Roe v. Wade to enshrine abortion rights at the ballot box.
The victory comes after Ohio GOP leaders, including Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), led an effort to “make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution.” (Republicans in other states like North Dakota and Kansas are also spearheading similar “efforts to block citizen-led measures.”) Republican lawmakers in Ohio “also attempted to force proponents to collect more signatures, tried to toss the measure out and crafted their own ballot language that Issue 1 backers criticized as unfair and inaccurate,” The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. And, in the weeks before the vote, anti-abortion groups, elected officials, and official government sources were spreading misinformation and false claims about the measure.
Undeterred, advocates plan to introduce similar statewide ballot initiatives in nine other states next year.