Arkansas is likely to be the first state to pass a bill similar to Texas’ six-week abortion ban ― the most extreme abortion restriction in U.S. history that has forced many to flee the state to receive care.
Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert (R) announced last week that he will introduce the Arkansas Heartbeat Protection Act on Oct. 25 during a special legislative session. Although Rapert has yet to formally release the bill, he said it will include “a civil cause of action ― just like Texas.” It’s very likely that the legislation will mirror S.B. 8, especially coming from Rapert who, when S.B. 8 became law in September, told news outlets: “What Texas has done is absolutely awesome.”
“Arkansas was recently named the most ProLife state in the nation,” Rapert said on Twitter earlier this week. “It should be easy to pass the Texas-style heartbeat bill in our upcoming Special Session.”
In addition to banning abortion after six weeks (a point at which many people don’t yet realize they’re pregnant), Texas’ S.B. 8 includes financial incentives for private citizens to seek out and sue anyone who “aids or abets” Texans trying to get an abortion. If someone successfully sues, they could receive a bounty of at least $10,000 and have all of their legal fees paid for by the opposing side.
“We are taking this very, very seriously,” said Emily Wales, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “We know that we have a number of legislators here in Arkansas who are eager to be on the frontlines of ending abortion access entirely ― no matter the impact on the citizens they serve.”
Reproductive rights advocates warned the country when S.B. 8 passed that copycat legislation in other red states was likely. And, so far, the legislation is working as Republican lawmakers intended. The restriction has forced pregnant Texans seeking abortions to flee the state; it’s instilled fear in many who are confused by the intentionally vague legislation; and it’s chilled conversations on the ground for providers and organizers who are fearful of legal ramifications.
The same will likely happen in Arkansas if the state successfully passes Rapert’s copycat bill.
“The overwhelming majority of Arkansans would lose access to care,” Wales said. As the leader of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which serves Oklahoma as well as Arkansas, Wales knows all too well the damage done by restrictions such as S.B. 8. Oklahoma’s Planned Parenthood clinics are seeing “lots of patients in crisis who are crossing state lines from Texas,” Wales said.
“The reality of what this means for the region is very, very real and present,” she said. “It would only increase that crisis to Arkansans who would then be forced to travel, if they can afford to, to states even farther out ― potentially overwhelming the neighboring states that are trying to support Texans.”
Arkansas already has a long list of anti-abortion laws on the books that severely restrict access to care for pregnant people in the state. In the most recent legislative session alone, the state passed 20 abortion restrictions. Just this year, Arkansas passed a near-total abortion ban that was eventually blocked by a federal judge. And the state also passed a trigger law in 2019 that will immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade ― the landmark Supreme Court case that protects the right to abortion ― is overturned. Currently, there are only two abortion clinics in the entire state of Arkansas, and 77% of women live in counties with no abortion clinic.
Before sponsoring the Texas-style copycat abortion ban, Rapert also created and sponsored Arkansas’ trigger ban and the near-total abortion ban.
The lawmaker expanded on his thoughts on abortion earlier this month, telling the Southwest Times Record: “If I had my way I’d go board up the abortion clinic in west Little Rock this weekend and be done with it because that’s what the people of Arkansas want, but I’m working within a system, and we respect the fact we passed laws, they get struck down, we come at it again.”
The majority of people in Arkansas actually don’t support passing a Texas-style abortion ban, according to a recent Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College poll of over 900 Arkansans. About 50% said they opposed a copycat bill in Arkansas, while 47% said they supported it.
Rapert did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Before Arkansas, Florida was actually the first state to introduce a copycat bill of Texas’ S.B. 8. Florida state Rep. Webster Barnaby (R) introduced H.B. 167 to the state’s House of Representatives in September. The bill mirrors S.B. 8 almost word-for-word and includes a section on deputizing private citizens by offering a reward of at least $10,000. (Barnaby did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.)
Reproductive rights advocates on the ground in Florida, however, are not too worried about the copycat bill becoming law. Florida has attempted to pass a six-week abortion ban once a year for the past few years and nothing ever comes of it, said Damien Filer, a communications consultant with Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida. Filer said with “a high degree of confidence” that the Texas-style copycat bill will go nowhere.
The more likely scenario, Filer said, is that the state legislature will introduce and put its weight behind something closer to a Mississippi-style abortion ban, which bans abortion after 15 weeks and is threatening to overturn Roe.
“We think that they’re going to use [the copycat bill] as a way to pass something that is closer to a Mississippi-style ban and be able to say, ‘Hey we listened to people and this isn’t the extreme thing they did in Texas,’” Filer explained. “Our feeling is that they’re going to position something closer to the Mississippi bill as the kinder, gentler, abortion ban.”
Less than two months after S.B. 8 went into effect, at least 10 other states are working to pass a Texas-style abortion restriction. In addition to Florida and Arkansas, lawmakers in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia have expressed support for passing similar legislation in their home states.