Brummett Online

OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: A complicated mission in Arkansas


Advocates of an abortion-rights amendment in Arkansas now have permission from Attorney General Tim Griffin to fan out and seek your signatures on a petition to grant an 18-week abortion right with humane exceptions for abortions after that.

These advocates are optimistic--from private polling, they say--that Arkansas will join a national trend of red-state voters choosing to loosen the outright state bans allowed by the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Optimism is a to-be-admired prerequisite for political motivation.

It's a three-state trend at this point--Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio--and it's more a matter in those red states of voters rejecting Republican legislative overreach than a general embrace of abortion choice.

It is important to consider--for fair and correct analysis--that, while emotion on abortion is simple, the political aspects of the issue are complex.

The issue is the mother of unease, both ways. Many advocates of abortion choice rush to preface that they would never choose one for themselves. Bill Clinton and his spin doctors were quite good, and their call for abortion to be "safe, legal and rare" still has currency.

Many general opponents of abortion recoil, if privately, from forcing a girl impregnated by an uncle's rape to bear the child. And they wince at forcing a woman told by her doctor that her unborn child has no brain and can't survive to carry the child to heartbreaking term.

Red-state voter leanings seem to hinge on how an issue is phrased and framed. Polls vary and mislead.

These abortion-rights advocates in Arkansas believe one true thing for sure: Overwhelmingly Republican legislatures in red states like Arkansas, passing and protecting absolute bans under authority of the Roe v. Wade repeal, are more strictly anti-abortion than are garden-variety conservative and religious people, many of whom who can see logic and decency in a rare exception.

The main thing wrong with Republican legislators in red states--many of whom have personal instincts better than their voting records--is that they fear losing primaries if they become susceptible to attacks from the right that they are not pure in their rejection of evil liberal Democrats.

Back home, the rabid, no-exception anti-abortion people make more noise than the thoughtful conservative people who sit faithfully in the fundamentalist and evangelical churches while largely keeping to themselves that maybe they could support allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal anomalies. The noisy are the ones who spread the dreaded fatal "RINO" branding.

So, the general election gets the Republican who survives by professing and adhering in Little Rock to the hardest-right view of abortion. If there is a Democratic alternative at all, that candidate likely is branded a liberal at least by association and thus is susceptible to the accusation that he or she supports "abortion on demand." And that is in no way acceptable to the quiet pew-dweller in the evangelical church who is sensitive to a girl impregnated by an uncle, or the mom informed by her doctor that her unborn child has no brain and cannot survive.

Polls are all over the place, but those in Arkansas could best be summed up this way: A majority of Arkansas voters supports banning abortion. And a majority of Arkansas voters supports limiting that ban on abortion, if the limits allow abortion to save the life of the mother and in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal anomaly.

You don't see many people polling it quite that specifically, perhaps because neither side wants to accept that truth.

This proposal grants a full right of abortion for 18 weeks, which is not a poll winner. But it provides the aforementioned exceptions, which is a poll winner.

But it also allows abortions in cases of childbirth-related physical injury or disorder to the mother, not necessarily life-threatening. That exception--for the "health," not merely life, of the mother--lends itself to attacks from the right.

We're already hearing from the ubiquitous Jerry Cox of the state's anti-abortion movement that this ballot proposal is radical. He says it opens the door for the first time ever in Arkansas to full abortion on demand until the point of birth.

How this turns out will depend entirely on which side frames the issue and has the most money and the best messaging.

But getting the question to the ballot has a complication. Can the petitioners meet the onerous new state requirement that they spread signatures among 50 counties and collect from each at least 5 percent of the last gubernatorial-election turnout in that county?

There are places in Arkansas I would recommend not venturing with an abortion-choice petition. The church-goer will be loath to be seen signing the petition in possible view of fellow congregants.

A few counties will require a kind of underground network, a kind of subversiveness.

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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