Arkansas became the latest state to consider a copycat version of Texas’ draconian six-week abortion ban on Tuesday, when state Sen. Jason Rapert (R) filed Senate Bill 13 during a special legislative session. Rapert’s bill went a step further than the Lone Star State’s S.B. 8: The proposed Arkansas legislation aims to ban abortion at any stage of pregnancy.
The special legislative session was largely dedicated to discussing tax cuts, but Rapert, a vocal anti-abortion advocate, said in October that he was planning to introduce legislation similar to Texas’ during the short legislative window.
“What Texas has done is absolutely awesome,” Rapert told news outlets in September after Texas passed its six-week ban.
Similar to Texas’ ban, S.B. 13 would deputize private citizens to enforce the law by offering a $10,000 bounty to anyone who successfully sues someone aiding or abetting a person seeking an abortion. The legislation prohibits abortion from “fertilization until live birth” and only allows exceptions if the life of the pregnant person is at risk. It’s a modification of the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, which was passed into law in 2013 and included a ban on abortion at 12 weeks ― the most restrictive abortion law in the country at the time ― before it was overturned by the Supreme Court.
“Abortion is a crime against humanity,” Rapert told HuffPost. “We believe it is urgent that we use the Texas-style civil cause of action approach to ensure abortions are stopped right now. It is time the will of individual states to protect human life is respected across the nation.”
Fellow anti-abortion state Rep. Mary Bentley (R) is the other primary sponsor of the bill. Nearly 30 other Republicans co-sponsored the act, reaching the two-thirds threshold necessary for the bill to be considered in the special session.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), a staunch anti-abortion lawmaker, said ahead of the special session that any further abortion restrictions should wait until a decision is handed down in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court case, which the high court heard last week and centers on a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi.
But Rapert disagreed with Hutchinson, telling a local NPR affiliate that waiting on a Supreme Court decision would mean that abortions would continue in the state. Rapert added an emergency clause in the bill’s text alleging that because of Texas’ abortion ban people from the state are traveling to Arkansas to receive care. The influx of Texans “is burdening the healthcare system” in Arkansas, the bill claims, causing an increase in abortions in the state.
“This act is immediately necessary to protect the lives of unborn children and the health and safety of pregnant women in this state,” the bill states.
The special legislative session was later shut down without being formally opened, meaning the copycat bill is not currently moving through the Arkansas state legislature, but likely will be once it’s back in session in February.
Florida and Ohio have also introduced copycat Texas laws since September. Reproductive justice advocates in Florida told HuffPost in November that they’re confident the copycat bill will not gain traction. Ohio is a different story. Similar to Arkansas, the Ohio bill aims to ban abortion at any point in pregnancy and includes the clause that deputizes private citizens.
Just over a month ago, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the controversial Texas law, specifically debating the enforcement mechanism of financially incentivizing private citizens to act as bounty hunters. Although many of the Supreme Court justices seemed open to allowing legal challenges to Texas’ abortion ban, a decision has yet to be handed down. About two-thirds of Americans say the Texas law should be struck down by the Supreme Court, according to a recent poll.
Although it’s only been in place for a little over three months, Texas’ extreme abortion restriction has had deeply detrimental effects on people seeking abortions in the Southern state. Many are leaving the state to get abortions while other less privileged people are being forced to give birth. Abortion clinics in bordering states like Oklahoma and New Mexico are overwhelmed with Texas patients, leaving clinic staff extremely overworked as they try to accommodate the influx of new patients.
The same will likely happen in Arkansas if Rapert’s copycat bill successfully makes its way through the state legislature.
“The overwhelming majority of Arkansans would lose access to care,” Emily Wales, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, told HuffPost in October. “The reality of what this means for the region is very, very real and present. 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 is already one of the most anti-abortion states in the country. The state passed 20 abortion restrictions in the most recent legislative session alone. Just this year, Rapert helped to pass a near-total abortion ban in Arkansas that was eventually blocked by a federal judge. The state also passed a trigger law in 2019 that will immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Currently, there are only two abortion clinics in the entire state of Arkansas, and 77% of women in the state live in counties with no abortion clinic.
This article has been updated to include context around the special legislative session being shut down without a formal introduction.