OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Simple and straightforward

The proposed Arkansas abortion amendment is now the proposed Arkansas Abortion Amendment.

Add a couple of capital letters and you have yourselves a nearly unassailable popular name for the proposal to allow abortions within 18 weeks of fertilization and after that with exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomaly and life and health considerations for the mother.

Why unassailable only nearly?

Well, as we know, this has been, over at Attorney General Tim Griffin's office, not only the holiday season but the nitpick season. Griffin has wielded with vigor his office's relatively new legal authority to decide the acceptable wording of proposed amendments. The office has done some good editing and committed some idle meddlesomeness--that line being fine.

If Griffin and his chief nitpicker wanted, they could say that the new title--the Arkansas Abortion Amendment, replacing the exercise in political spin that the earlier title touting "reproductive health care" was--falls short in that it doesn't tell the voter whether it restricts or expands the right to abortion in the state.

It does both. It expands the right before 18 weeks and restricts it after that.

The Arkansas Abortion Amendment says what it is and is what it says. It doesn't seek to push the voter one direction or the other. It simply tells the voter what the text of the amendment is about.

Superficial voters making their decisions solely on the popular name and ballot title could break both ways. Uninformed voting is bipartisan.

It may be that the leaders of the amendment effort, already sore that they were having to change wording, decided simply to call their proposal the Arkansas Abortion Amendment in part to force Griffin to look hyper-political and overly picky if finding fault with it.

That conceivably could compromise the integrity of his work. It might make for a better lawsuit alleging he is exceeding his statutory authority and the posterior seam-strength of his britches.

The other major fault cited by Griffin's office was in the exception for the "health" of the mother. Pro-life forces see a general "health" exception as intentionally so open-ended as to guarantee abortion on demand until birth for any woman finding a friendly doctor. Griffin wanted health defined.

So, the revised proposal specifies that it refers to physical health (not also mental health), and defines health as follows: "Physical health means a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, or when continuation of the pregnancy will create a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant female, as diagnosed in the physician's good-faith medical judgment."

That sounds pretty good to the untrained medical ear. If the amendment should pass, a big "if," and if pro-life forces remained concerned about abuse by pro-abortion doctors, then they could always pass legislation setting up an investigative unit for that in ... well ... the attorney general's office.

In any event, pro-life forces are certain to argue that any exception for "health," no matter how defined, is a loophole essentially authorizing abortion on demand.

That's what you're going to hear regardless of what the text says. So, Griffin ought to put his stamp of acceptance on that definition. You don't fault definitions of crimes for expectation of violation of those crimes.

Otherwise, the stated exceptions are clear and, I contend, popular.

They are for abortions in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or necessary to save the life (not healthiness) of the mother, and in cases of fatal fetal anomalies when an outright ban on abortion would force a woman to carry, without any choice otherwise, a brainless or otherwise doomed fetus to term.

I and others calculate politically that a simple amendment legalizing abortion in those cases--rape, incest, to save the life of the mother and when there are fatal fetal anomalies--would pass comfortably.

But I understand that forces looking to restore a woman's right to choose would not want to start with a fallback position. First you go with your strong passion for right. Pragmatism can come later and not without anger, sadness and an extreme sapping of motivation.

One more editing change sought by Griffin's office was that the proposal needed to reconcile itself with an existing amendment approved by the voters in the 1890s and outlawing abortion entirely. This new version would add a few words to that existing amendment saying it applies except as otherwise restricted in the state Constitution.

That seems to handle that detail simply and logically enough. You don't get those words unless the amendment passes. If it does pass, you need them.

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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