(NEW YORK) — Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders quietly signed into law on Thursday a bill that will create a “monument to the unborn” on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol.
Sanders’ team confirmed the bill signing in a release late Friday.
State Senate Bill 307, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Kim Hammer and Rep. Mary Bentley, allows for private funds “of gifts, grants, and donations from individuals and organizations” to pay for a monument to “unborn children aborted during the era of Roe v. Wade.”
Once the monument is installed, it would then be maintained by taxpayer funds due to its location.
Bentley said its intent is to “remember those children we were not able to protect and we will not be able to forget.”
Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, an organization that challenged the installation of a Ten Commandments monument on State Capitol grounds in 2017, called the move to place an anti-abortion monument there a “performative political stunt.”
“Arkansas is ranked as one of the worst states in the nation for overall child well-being, maternal health, and the life expectancy among adults, yet the legislature has enacted dangerous limits and bans on reproductive healthcare. Lawmakers should be working to protect Arkansans with real solutions instead of this type of performative political stunt,” Dickson said in a statement to ABC News.
A total ban on abortion, except to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency, took effect in Arkansas last June when the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.
But despite a super majority of Republicans in the legislature identifying with anti-abortion rights, the bill to make a monument enshrining Arkansans’ aborted fetuses did not see unanimous support among Republicans in the state legislature.
The House passed the legislation Tuesday in a 60-19 vote with two Republicans voting “no.” Ten Republicans didn’t vote, and another ten Republicans voted “present,” which has the same effect as voting no. When the bill moved through the state Senate last month, two Republicans didn’t vote and one Republican voted present.
“From a Christian perspective, this has the look and feel of spiking the football,” said state Rep. Steve Unger, a Republican who voted against the bill, on the House floor. “It looks like gloating.”
“Public memorials to our nation’s wars where we face an external threat are right and proper,” he added. “A memorial to an ongoing culture war where we seem to be shooting at each other is not.”
Unger told ABC News on Friday, “My comments reflected my beliefs, but I respect other convictions.”
Rep. Jeremiah Moore, the other House Republican to vote against creating the monument, warned it could “have an unintended effect on the pro-life cause.”
“I believe that life is precious, but we must approach this issue with grace. It will serve as a poke in the eye to all those who don’t share our beliefs,” he said in a floor speech.
Rep. Tippi McCullough, a Democrat who voted against the legislation, told ABC News, “I could think of a thousand ways to better spend money that would be helpful to our citizens.”
“This bill makes no real distinctions in the type of abortions it would enshrine with a statue on Capitol Grounds. That means a woman who went through a traumatic pregnancy that resulted in the death of her child-to-be would have to face a monument commentating that awful moment when she comes here to the people’s house,” McCullough said in a statement to ABC News. “Abortion was legal in this country for nearly 50 years. Putting a monument outside these walls won’t change that. The state has no business in a woman’s healthcare or in a family’s tragedy.”
Hammer, one of the bill’s sponsors, countered the criticism to say, “Abortion had no unintended affect because it achieved what those who supported it intended for it to do which is to kill innocent lives.”
“Many tax dollars went to organizations that supported and encouraged abortions,” Hammer told ABC News in a statement. “Rep. Moore can defend his own comments. I will defend remembering the 250,000 innocent babies through a visual reminder in the hopes that we will never repeat a terrible chapter in our nation’s history.”
Hammer also said he is in touch with a company already that wants to donate the monument but did not disclose the company’s name or a description of the design. The secretary of state will have final approval of the monument’s maker and design, which the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission will select, according to the bill’s text.
While there are hundreds of anti-abortion monuments across the country, this appears to be among the first approved for the grounds of a state Capitol.
The National Day of Remembrance for Aborted Children, an anti-abortion rights group, which says it exists “to honor the gravesites of our unborn brothers and sisters,” told ABC News it was not aware of any other currently existing monuments to unborn children on the grounds of other State Capitols.
Lawmakers in Tennessee approved legislation in 2018 allowing for a similar privately-funded monument to anti-abortion rights on its state Capitol grounds, but that monument has yet to be installed, said spokesperson John Jansen.
Monuments already on Arkansas Capitol grounds include statues honoring the Little Rock Nine, the first Black students to enter Little Rock Central High School under the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, and one of the Ten Commandments, which was damaged a day after it was installed when a man ran it over in protest. It has since been repaired.
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