Region & State

Bill to create anti-abortion monument at Arkansas Capitol heads to governor’s desk

By TESS VRBIN | Arkansas Advocate

A bill to create a “monument to the unborn” on the grounds of the Arkansas Capitol is on Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ desk after it cleared the state Legislature on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 307 passed the Senate on March 1 and the House on Tuesday with support solely from Republicans. All legislative Democrats except one and a handful of Republicans voted against the bill.

The bill would authorize the Arkansas Secretary of State to decide where on the Capitol grounds to place “a suitable monument commemorating unborn children aborted during the era of Roe v. Wade,” meaning from 1973 to 2022. The Secretary of State and the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission will be responsible for choosing an artist and design.

The bill would also establish a trust fund to raise money via gifts, grants and donations to build the monument.

Reps. Steve Unger (R-Springdale) and Jeremiah Moore (R-Clarendon) joined 17 of the 18 House Democrats in voting against the bill. The remaining Democrat, Rep. Kenneth Ferguson of Pine Bluff, voted present.

Rep. Steve Unger (R-Springdale) speaks against Senate Bill 307 on the House floor March 14, 2023. | Screenshot from House livestream

Unger and Moore both told the House they staunchly oppose abortion but believed a memorial monument would not be a good use of time and energy.

“Public memorials to our nation’s wars where we faced an external threat are right and proper,” said Unger, an ordained Southern Baptist minister. “A memorial to an ongoing culture war where we seem to be shooting at each other is not.”

Unger suggested fundraising to help pregnant Arkansans or support the state’s foster system instead of fundraising for the monument in question.

He also said the proposal felt like “gloating” and “spiking the football.”

“The Jesus that I know, who was called ‘friend of sinners,’ never did that,” Unger said.

Moore said the monument “will serve as a poke in the eye to those who do not share our beliefs” and would be used by abortion rights advocates as a means of rallying and fundraising for their cause.

He also said “respectful, productive engagement” with those who support abortion access has been the next step since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022 and Arkansas became one of many states to subsequently outlaw abortion.

“In this fight for hearts and minds, our job is to do everything we can to convince our fellow Arkansans of the justness of our cause without compromising our convictions,” Moore said.

A few House Republicans spoke highly of the proposed monument, including the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville). She was also the primary House sponsor of Act 180 of 2019, the “trigger” abortion ban that went into effect the same day Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Ten House Republicans did not vote on the bill, and another 10 voted present while 60 voted yes.

Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) joined the six Senate Democrats in voting against the bill on March 1. Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) voted present, two other Republicans did not vote, and the remaining 25 Republicans voted for the bill.

The bill states that Arkansans had at least 236,243 abortions while Roe v. Wade was in place for almost half a century.

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