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Washington County could lead the way in adding exceptions to Arkansas abortion law

The Washington County Quorum Court County Services Committee delayed the vote to ask the state legislature to add more exceptions to Arkansas' abortion law.

WASHINGTON COUNTY, ARKANSAS, Ark. — Monday, Oct. 3, the Washington County Quorum Court Service Committee was expected to vote on a resolution to add two more exceptions to Arkansas' trigger law, one for rape and one for incest.

"The merciful thing to do is to create an exception," said meeting attendee Sarah Thompson during public comment.

If passed, this would be the first step in adding changes to the state law that went into effect after the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

Arkansas Act 180 of 2019 was meant to be a "trigger law," meaning in the instance that Roe v. Wade was overturned, it would then immediately be the law in Arkansas to ban abortions without any extra legislation required by the state.

All abortions are now banned in Arkansas except for medical emergencies— if the mother's life is threatened. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, which makes it one of the strictest abortion laws in the country.

Washington County Quorum Court committee member and Washington County Justice of the Peace Evelyn Rios Stafford introduced the resolution to add exceptions. 

RELATED: "Our baby was wanted and loved." Complications of Arkansas's abortion ban

"As local officials, we don’t have the power to change the law, that’s up to the Governor and state legislature. But we do have the power to say, 'this is where we stand,' and to encourage our state elected leaders to listen."

She says several constituents asked that the exceptions be added to the Arkansas trigger law. 

"Whether people identify as pro-choice or pro-life, I think this is a place where two sides can find common ground," Stafford said. "A 10-year-old rape victim should not have to cross state lines to make a medical decision, on top of the trauma that she’s already endured."

During the committee meeting, the vote on the resolution was postponed before it was read.

"I move to postpone the next resolution on the agenda," said Washington County Justice of the Peace, Jim Wilson.

A second was heard from Justice of the Peace Robert Dennis before the committee moved to the public comment section of the meeting.

“I think this was a cowardly move by folks who didn’t want to vote on a difficult issue for them before the election," Rios Stafford said. "I think that is incredibly cynical.”

"JP Wilson you are a coward for doing what you did," said Washington County Justice of the Peace Eva Madison during public comment. Justice of the Peace and committee chairperson Sam Duncan asked Madison to stop name-calling people. 

"I will name call if I want what are you going to do JP Duncan kick me out," JP Madison asked. "Have the sheriff come take me out like you're so prone to do?"

Multiple people spoke during public comment about how the vote to delay discussion of the resolution was handled.

"That is not being transparent, that is not being open, that is not handling county business in an open manner," said Beth Coger, meeting attendee and co-founder of Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition. "You are showing disrespect for the constituents of Washington County."

"Y'all are just as bad as the rapist," Thompson said.

5NEWS spoke with Justice of the Peace Butch Pond after the meeting. He says he was one of the votes to delay the discussion.

"They [comittee members] may need more time to study," Pond said.

However, he says his mind was already made up on his decision.

"I don't believe in taking an innocent life," he said.

“Is the living child worth less than the fetus?" Thompson asked the committee.

Those in support of the resolution say they will continue to fight for it.

"You are cowards and you are shameful for what you did tonight," Madison said.

According to the Washington County Quorum Court meeting calendar website, there is no committee meeting scheduled for the rest of 2023.

If the resolution is at the next committee meeting, it'll go to the full county quorum court, then to the state to discuss.

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