Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Abortion Ballot Measure Proposal, Citing Murky Language

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
November 30, 2023Politics
Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Abortion Ballot Measure Proposal, Citing Murky Language
The Arkansas State flag and U.S. flag fly in front of the State Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., on Dec. 1, 2022. (Janice Hisle/The Epoch Times)

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin has rejected the suggested name for and language used in a proposed ballot measure that sought to codify abortion rights within the state’s constitution.

The measure was submitted earlier this month by Arkansans for Limited Government, a ballot question committee (BQC) formed by the left-leaning nonprofit organization For AR People.

The organization’s proposed popular name for the ballot measure was “The Arkansas Reproductive Healthcare Amendment.” The proposed ballot language described an amendment to the state’s constitution that barred state officials from prohibiting, restricting, or penalizing access to abortion within the first 18 weeks after conception, cases where a pregnancy arose from rape or incest, cases where a pregnancy posed a risk to the “health” of the mother, or when there was a “fatal fetal anomaly.”

Mr. Griffin sent a seven-page response letter on Tuesday, rejecting the measure as initially proposed and calling for revisions. The Republican attorney general said his decision was not based on his personal view of the proposed ballot measure’s merits, but on concerns that the measure contained partisan, misleading, and contradictory language.

Mr. Griffin said the proposed popular name “The Arkansas Reproductive Healthcare Amendment” was itself misleading, as it only pertained to abortion and not other aspects of reproductive health care.

“In the future, if your proposal measure were at the stage where it could be certified, I would have to substitute and certify a different popular name,” he warned. “I am flagging this for you now so you can provide an alternative if you would like.”

Mr. Griffin also articulated issues with some of the language of the ballot measure, such as references to allowing abortions in cases where a pregnancy harms the life or “health” of the mother.

“Is the term intended to cover physical health only, or also mental health? If the term is limited to physical health, is that intended to be restricted to emergent medical conditions? Or does … the term also extend to pregnancies that increase the risk of certain medical complications?” he wrote.

Mr. Griffin also questioned whether the 18-week period in which the ballot measure sought to protect abortion access referred to the fetal age or the gestational age. He noted that in many cases, pregnancies are tracked from the date of the mother’s last menstrual cycle rather than the date of conception, which could make a difference.

“When counting from the more standard starting point, the reference to ’18 weeks’ is closer to ’20 weeks.’ This difference in timing could be misleading to voters and would certainly give them serious ground for reflection. This is not a basis to reject your proposal as misleading. But if your proposal were at the stage where it could be certified, I would have to substitute language in your ballot title to flag for all voters that the timeframe for government regulation would begin at 20 weeks gestational age,” Mr. Griffin wrote.

The attorney general said the ballot measure’s language also failed to clearly state the impact it would have on existing state law, such as Arkansas Constitutional Amendment 68, which was passed in 1988 and states that “the policy of Arkansas is to protect the life of every unborn child from conception until birth, to the extent permitted by the Federal Constitution.”

“It seems plausible that even if your proposal were enacted in its current form, portions of Amendment 68 would remain,” he wrote. “Since the Arkansas Supreme Court has declared that voters are entitled to some information on how the proposed measure would change current law, some such information would need to be provided.”

Mr. Griffin called on the proponents of the ballot measure to redesign their proposal to address the issues he raised.

In response to an NTD News request for comment, For AR People Executive Director Gennie Diaz shared a press statement prepared by the Arkansans for Limited Government BQC, stating that they will rework the ballot measure.

“We appreciate the Attorney General’s thorough review of and impartial response to the amendment’s language,” the statement read.

“We are also heartened by the overwhelming support we have received from Arkansans across the state, including pledges to sign a future petition in favor of the Arkansas Reproductive Healthcare Amendment. Residents want sensible reproductive policy, and Arkansans for Limited Government will begin work immediately with the amendment drafter to craft a revised amendment. We are committed to supporting a ballot proposal that is clear for Arkansas voters.”

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.