Forty-four years to the day after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told a couple of thousand marchers at the annual March for Life that he will sign a bill outlawing the most common form of second trimester abortion.
That bill, House Bill 1032 by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-East End, would outlaw what it calls “dismemberment” abortions, where the fetus is extracted from the womb one piece at a time. The medical term is dilation and evacuation. The bill passed the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee Thursday and will be considered by the full House Monday. Mayberry, state president of Arkansas Right to Life, emceed the rally on the Capitol steps that concluded the march.
Referring to that bill, Hutchinson told the crowd, “I have read the bill. I have studied the bill. And when it passes, I will sign it into law as governor.”
Hutchinson was one of numerous Arkansas elected officials participating in the march. Lt .Governor Tim Griffin led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, and three of the state’s other constitutional officers were present: Auditor Andrea Lea, Treasurer Dennis Milligan, and Land Commissioner John Thurston. Mayberry told the crowd that a flight delay prevented Attorney General Leslie Rutledge from participating. A number of state legislators also participated.
The keynote speaker, Monica Kelsey, learned at age 37 that her 17-year-old birth mother had been raped and left on the side of the road to die. After she learned she was pregnant, she had intended to get an abortion but changed her mind at the facility, spent the rest of her pregnancy in seclusion, and then abandoned Kelsey two hours after birth.
“My biological father is a rapist, I don’t even know my ethnicity, but I am still a human being and I still have value,” she said. “And my life isn’t worth any less than yours just because of the way I was conceived, and I didn’t deserve the death penalty for the crime of my biological father.”
Kelsey, an Indiana firefighter and medic, said her state’s safe haven law became more important to her after she learned her backstory. All 50 states have such laws allowing mothers to leave their babies at designated locations without facing charges of abandonment. Arkansas’ law was passed in 2001 and allows mothers anonymously to leave their babies at a law enforcement agency up to 30 days after birth as long as there has been no abuse.
Kelsey started Safe Haven Baby Boxes, which operates a 24-hour hotline, 1-866-99BABY1, for expectant mothers to call for the locations of save havens. She said the organization has prevented six abortions in 24 months. In one case, she was preparing a cheeseball at 11:32 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning when an expectant mother called. Fifteen minutes later, the baby was in the hands of a firefighter.
“Christ is so amazing that my life was saved so that today I may save others, she said.
Jennifer Gunderman of Little Rock said she was marching because, “I believe in the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.”
She is a board member with the Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center in Little Rock, which counsels pregnant women on choosing between adoption and parenting the child. She said her organization has about 400 new clients a year and had a record number of nearly 75 clients choosing not to have an abortion in 2016.
“We believe in taking women who are in crisis pregnancies from a place of fear into a place of hope,” she said.