Arkansas AG rejects proposed ballot language for a constitutional amendment on abortion

By Dave Andrusko

For the second time Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin has rejected proposed ballot language for a constitutional amendment on abortion offered by Arkansans for Limited Government committee.

The attorney general “said in a three-page letter to Steven Nichols of Little Rock that he rejected the latest proposed popular name and ballot title for the proposed amendment, and he asked Nichols to redesign the proposed amendment,” according to Michael R. Wickline, writing for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  The Committee agreed to submit a third version.

“Certifying the popular name and ballot title would clear the way for the Arkansans for Limited Government committee to begin collecting signatures of registered voters to qualify the proposal for the 2024 general election ballot,” Wickline continued.

“Sponsors of proposed constitutional amendments are required to submit 90,704 signatures to the secretary of state’s office by July 5. The total must include signatures from at least 50 counties, according to the secretary of state’s office.”

In his letter Attorney General Griffin wrote that the defects in the first version were addressed in the second version except for one critical flaw. According to Wickline, in his letter dated Thursday to Steven Nichols, “Griffin said that several issues prevented him from certifying the proposed popular name and ballot title in the first proposal, and “[y]ou have now resolved all but one of those issues.”

The prior version of your proposed text permitted abortion when, among other things, it was “needed to protect the pregnant female’s life or health.” I noted that the term “health” was unclear in this context because it could mean physical health, emotional health, etc. I concluded that this would need to be clarified to ensure a ballot title summarizing the measure would not mislead the voter in any way.

Your current proposed text attempts to address this by clarifying that abortion would be allowed when, among other things, it is “needed to protect the pregnant female’s life or physical health.” Section 3(B) of your proposed text defines “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….”

This definition is misleading because it defines “physical health,” not as the absence of disorder, illness, or injury, but as the presence of those things. That is the opposite of the common meaning of “health.” This confusion is compounded when, for the sake of analysis, one substitutes your definition of “physical health” provided in Section 3(B) for the term “physical health” you use in Section 1. That sentence would read: “Abortion services” are permitted when, among other things, they “are needed to protect the pregnant female’s 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….” As the foregoing sentence indicates, it is readily apparent that what you likely intended to say is not what the text says. This problem in the text is imported directly into your proposed ballot title.

Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, said.

“The broadly written language is so extreme that even pro-choice voters will see it goes too far. It clearly allows abortions up to the moment of birth and mandates that even the most basic limits on the profit-driven abortion industry are removed. The proposed constitutional amendment is not about limited government, it’s about forcing no-limit abortion on the people of Arkansas.”