Arkansas AG rejects second proposed amendment to make abortion constitutional right

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin discussing criminal justice reform in an interview in January 2023.
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin discussing criminal justice reform in an interview in January 2023. | Screengrab: YouTube/Roby Brock

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin has refused to include a proposed state constitutional amendment on the ballot that, if passed by voters, would create a limited right to abortion.

In a letter released last week, Griffin said he believed that the way the Arkansas Abortion Amendment was worded was misleading to potential voters, namely how it defined “physical health.”

The amendment had defined “physical health” as “a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury … 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.”

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“It defines ‘physical health,’ not as the absence of disorder, illness, or injury, but as the presence of those things,” wrote Griffin. “That is the opposite of the common meaning of ‘health.’”

“I suspect you intended something like this: to permit ‘abortion services’ when, among other things, they ‘are needed to protect the pregnant female from a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury.’”

Griffin said this “foregoing defect” prevented him “from certifying your proposed ballot title,” adding that he lacks the authority to correct the proposed amendment text himself.

This marks the second time that the attorney general has rejected the proposed amendment due to concerns over the language of the measure.

Arkansans for Limited Government, the group behind the proposed amendment, released a brief statement last week explaining they will submit a new draft to Griffin soon.

“As AFLG previously stated, the revised Arkansas Abortion Amendment carefully addressed each concern the Attorney General expressed in his November opinion,” they added. “We are pleased that the AG largely agrees with the proposed changes. Our group will work with the drafter to make the singular correction requested in today’s opinion.”

The group wants abortion to be legal for up to 18 weeks after conception or under circumstances such as rape, incest, when the pre-born baby is diagnosed with a fatal fetal anomaly, or the mother is facing a life-threatening emergency.

Last November, Griffin rejected the proposed amendment, arguing, among other things, that the measure was written too broadly and that its original name, The Arkansas Reproductive Healthcare Amendment, was too partisan.

“Your proposed popular name is tinged with partisan coloring and misleading because your proposal is solely related to abortion, not ‘reproductive healthcare’ generally,” wrote Griffin last year, as reported by the Arkansas Advocate.

Presently, Arkansas prohibits abortion in nearly all circumstances, save for any life-threatening medical emergency the mother is facing. The law was triggered into effect when the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

Last month, the group Americans United for Life ranked Arkansas as the most pro-life state in the nation, marking the fourth year in a row that Arkansas received this honor.

“This is Arkansas’s fourth year as the most pro-life state in America after the state maintained existing protections for life and enacted an additional 9 life-protecting laws,” explained the pro-life group.

“But Arkansas is facing challenges for the top slot from numerous other states, including Mississippi, South Dakota, and Florida.” 

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