Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson attempted to shirk responsibility on Sunday for signing a strict “trigger law” that would ban abortion in his state without any exceptions for rape and incest, insisting that Arkansas will revisit that matter if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Amid the bombshell leak of the draft majority Supreme Court opinion that would reverse the federal right to abortion, Republican-led states have come under scrutiny over anti-abortion laws that will automatically take effect if the high court overruled Roe v. Wade. One of these states with this so-called “trigger” ban is Arkansas, which was signed into law by Hutchinson in 2019.
The state’s proposal would prohibit all abortions except for medical emergencies where the mother’s life is at risk and provides absolutely no exceptions for rape and incest. During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, however, Hutchinson asserted that he opposed the sweeping nature of his state’s abortion ban.
“Your law only has exceptions for the life of the mother. So, just to be clear, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, no woman, unless her life is at risk, will be able to get an abortion in Arkansas,” CNN anchor Dana Bash pressed Hutchinson.
“If Roe v. Wade is reversed, the trigger law in Arkansas would come into effect. And whenever I signed that law, I did express that I support the—also the exceptions of rape and incest,” he replied. “The life of the mother and rape and incest are two exceptions I believe should have been added that did not have the support in the general assembly.”
He added that while they need to wait to see what the Supreme Court actually decides, if Roe v. Wade is indeed reversed, it will return the “authority back to the states” and “you’ll see states making different decisions based upon the values and the consensus of the people of that state.” Additionally, he said the “will of the people” of his state was expressed in Arkansas’ so-called “trigger” law.
“Governor, you did sign the law that does not include any exceptions for rape and incest,” Bash pushed back. “I know you said that you didn’t—you would rather that not be part of the law, but it is and you signed it.”
Presenting a hypothetical situation in which a pre-teen girl was impregnated by a family member, the State of the Union host asked the governor why the girl should be forced to carry that pregnancy to term.
“I agree with you,” the Republican governor responded. “I’ve had to deal with that particular circumstance even as governor. And while it’s still life in the womb, life of the unborn, the conception was under criminal circumstances, either incest or rape. And so those are two exceptions I recognize, I believe, are very appropriate. And what will happen as time goes on if Roe v. Wade is reversed. These are going to become very real circumstances.”
Hutchinson went on to say that he believes “debate and discussion will continue” on this issue and that rape and incest exceptions “could very well be revisited” when it comes to the state’s law.
“Governor, what if it can’t be?” Bash wondered. “You wanted the legislature in Arkansas to put those exceptions in. They didn’t. Your term is almost up. What makes you think you can change it?”
After the CNN anchor added that young girls could soon be in these situations, Hutchinson said answered that “those are heartbreaking circumstances” but that this all comes down to states having the authority to pass their own laws on abortion.
“In the last few years when we passed these trigger laws, we’re expressing a belief,” he proclaimed. “We’re trying to return that authority to the states and to reduce abortions, but whenever you see real-life circumstances like that, debate is going to continue and the will of the people may or may not change, but it’s going to come back to the states’ flexibility on that.”
Hutchinson concluded: “I believe those exceptions are going to be important overall to save lives because the public understands those exceptions, the importance of it. It will be revisited. There’s no guarantee of it but the public opinion does matter whenever you come to your elected representatives.”
The Arkansas governor, who is looking at a potential 2024 White House run, has also previously said that he opposes a nationwide abortion ban—largely because it would take away the states’ authority to pass anti-abortion laws.
“I think that’s inconsistent with what we’ve been fighting for decades, which is that we wanted the Roe vs. Wade reversed and the authority to return to the states,” he told ABC’s This Week earlier this month. “So, as a matter of principle, that’s where it should be.”
While Hutchinson shies away from the extreme nature of his state’s abortion ban that he signed into law, other GOP governors have leaned into passing all-encompassing anti-abortion laws. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, for instance, said last week that it was his “intention” to push his state to quickly pass a bill outlawing abortion with no exceptions for rape and incest.