OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: It comes down to editing

An old white gentleman with an affinity for moderation and incrementalism in his politics as expressed in his antiquated practice of newspaper column-writing might choose wisely to leave the abortion issue alone.

Here is how the sticking of his nose into it is likely to go, to repeat an anecdote shared in this space the other day: I spoke one morning to a group and said that even Arkansas likely would pass a constitutional amendment allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal anomaly. It is reasonable and compassionate.

But I said abortion advocates would have to settle for that and concede on the considerable rest.

In the afternoon I received a missive from a woman who had been in the audience and who wondered which of my rights I'd be willing to give up in exchange for restoration of a third of them. Perhaps I would vote only in every third election.

Point taken well enough.

Probably no one else out there had occasion last week to visit on this subject one day with Jason Rapert and the next with advocates of a newly proposed abortion-rights amendment for the general election ballot next year.

I got from him anti-abortion absolutism with a Proverbs citation. I got from them a little euphemistic attempt at rebranding. They talked about "reproductive health care" rather than abortion itself.

Rapert is a religious fanatic. They are fanatical--and proud to be--that the government shouldn't tell women what to do and not to do with their own bodies.

And I'm sure they are saying they meant nothing euphemistic, but everything entirely truthful, in referring to reproductive health as the issue. For the record, I just meant I'd detected a political tactic, not an untruth.

Voters even in dark-red states have shown they will vote against an extreme and absolute anti-abortion measure--that they, as a collective electorate from Montana to Kentucky to Ohio, will resist anything taking a right of abortion away without exception.

But the opposite probably applies as well--that electorates across the country, at least in deep-red states such as Arkansas, would oppose equally if not more strenuously a proposal for full restoration of personal abortion-choice rights as existed before the U.S. Supreme Court's striking down of Roe v. Wade.

Just as Ohio went too far in proposing a too-stringent abortion ban, this latest proposed Arkansas amendment probably goes too far as currently written, at least to the extent that it invites pro-choice groups to argue that it grants an absolute abortion right until birth, which it doesn't, expressly.

Attorney General Tim Griffin's staff critique of the proposal, leading to his office's rejection of the popular name and ballot title, was, to my surprise, a good piece of editing. Just as surprisingly, the group proposing the amendment responded to his rejection by saying, "We appreciate the attorney general's thorough and impartial response to the amendment's language."

It all sounds so civil. The problem will be that the editing will affect vital, divisive and decisive phrasings.

Referring to "reproductive health" rather than "abortion" in the popular name merely bears on whether the amendment likely passes or fails.

There is a poll that shows 61 percent of Arkansas voters favor the right to reproductive health care. Should a pregnant woman have a right to see an OB-GYN? Uh, yeah. Is that level of care woefully inadequate in Arkansas? Most certainly.

But another recent poll says that only 38 percent of Arkansans favor abortion-choice rights broadly.

So, that little edit potentially affects 23 percent of the vote.

Griffin's office also found fault with the lack of definition in the provision allowing exceptions after 18 weeks for rape, incest, some fetal anomalies and the life--and health (emphasis added)--of the mother.

That reference to "health" of the mother is what opponents will use to tell Arkansas voters that the proposal amounts to a full right of abortion-on-demand until birth.

The pro-life argument is that such a provision allows any doctor to allow any abortion for any woman at any time based simply on a general reference to protecting the mother's health.

A doctor's note, if you will.

Beyond that, any attempt by the backers of the amendment to define "health" for exception purposes would likely either restrict the exception too strenuously for themselves or not enough for opponents. More definition could even spread and galvanize opposition.

I'd vote with the 38-percent base for the proposal even as now written. And I'll vote sometime later, if it comes to settling for that, in favor of a narrow proposal to grant exceptions for rape, incest and fatal fetal anomalies.

But for now, the story seems to be tricky editing. Real tricky.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.

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