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Arkansas is one of 13 states with a so-called "trigger law" that would immediately ban abortions if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.
And with decisions on abortion, potentially moving into the hands of state governments, Amna Nawaz talks with two leaders on opposite sides of the debate about what this means for their residents.
Judy, that's right. This decision would mean states can determine who can get an abortion, when, and under what circumstances for the first time in nearly 50 years. Some states will effectively ban abortions. Just today, Oklahoma's governor signed a bill that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Meanwhile, other states are working to expand and codify access.
We will get the perspective from both sides. First, for the Republican view, I'm joined by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. Arkansas is one of 13 states with a trigger law, that would immediately ban abortions if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Attorney General Rutledge, welcome to the NewsHour. Thanks for making the time.
I just want to begin by asking you about access in your state. It's already very heavily restricted in Arkansas. So, if Roe is overturned, on that day, who would be able to get then a abortion in Arkansas?
Leslie Rutledge, Attorney General, Arkansas:
Well, thank you so much for having me on.
And this is a historic moment and we anxiously anticipate the final decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Arkansas, we are prepared to save lives of unborn children. We put a law in place in 2019 that we are essentially calling a trigger law, which will go into effect in the event that the court does in fact overturn Roe v. Wade and the Casey decision.
The trigger law essentially says that in Arkansas, as the attorney general for the state, I will certify that that is what the Supreme Court of the United States has done, has overturned Roe v. Wade and Casey, which would allow us to have a total ban on abortions in effect — a total ban except to save the life of a mother in a medical emergency.
So, only in cases of life endangerment, that would be the only exception? Not in the cases, say, if a minor is raped and impregnated, that person cannot legally get an abortion, correct?
Correct. The total ban is for simply saving the life of the mother in a medical emergency. We are prepared — we were prepared in 2019 when we passed this law in Arkansas in the event that the court did. Like so many Americans, we are hopeful and prayerful because many of us thought for the last 50 years that we would never see this day.
Well, let me ask you about another type of abortion which we've seen on the right if you don't mind. I apologize. I know your time is limited.
We have seen medication abortions increasing. How would your state view that? Could women in Arkansas have medication abortion — medications for abortion mailed to them?
No. This total ban would apply to any and all forms of abortion, except again for those to save the life of a mother in a medical emergency. This is important. Other states are looking to us. There are 12 other states across the country who have also had a trigger law in place because we want to be prepared on day one to begin saving lives of unborn, innocent children.
Let me ask you about what resulted in experts say unwanted pregnancies, right? What about those kids? Kids in Arkansas, I think one in five right now, live in poverty. And the foster care system is already overwhelmed after the last two years. . What's the state's plan for those kids?
Well, we are going to love those kids and we're going to give them great educational opportunities.
But how will you care for them?
I had heard from a woman earlier who thanked – who thanked me for my stand on the Supreme Court issue because she said she and her husband were able to adopt four children many years ago whose parents did not want them. And had abortion been available, then those children would not have been living and thriving.
And so, we are going to take care of the children in the state of Arkansas.
If I may, just from a resources standpoint, just from a resources standpoint, your system is overwhelmed. You had a 14 percent increase in the last two years of kids in the foster care system, too many kids, over 4,400, and not enough families to take them in. Is there a plan in place?
Well, certainly, there is. And that's why I am serving as the attorney general and running to be the next lieutenant governor of Arkansas and supporting my dear friend, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as the next governor, because we're going to make sure that we have the resources necessary to take care of our kids and give them the education that they need, to make sure that we take care of those in foster care.
I have worked in the foster care system. What those children need our love. What they don't need is someone putting a price tag on their life.
What is their life worth to them? Absolutely everything.
What is it worth to God? Absolutely everything. God intended for that life to begin at conception. He didn't intent for that life to have a nominal price tag on it, put on that child's head from some liberal who says it costs too much for that human life.
May I ask you about — you made it clear that you believe Roe was wrongfully — was wrongly decided. What about other cases? We heard President Biden express this concern. What about other cases that were similarly decided on this constitutional right to privacy?
Same-sex marriage, for example. You made clear that you disagree with that decision as well. Would you and Arkansas move to outlaw same-sex marriage?
Well, our focus right now is on the Dobbs decision and whether or not it does overturn Roe v. Wade. When the Obergefell decision came down and I was the sitting attorney general, I immediately sent out a memo explaining this was, in fact, the law of the land in the United States to ensure that state agencies and those conducting marriage ceremonies adhere to the law. I think that is important for Arkansans and Americans to understand that we must respect and uphold the law and defend the law.
What the Supreme Court did or rather, what we are hoping the Supreme Court has done in this decision of Dobbs is to adhere to the Constitution of the United States and return this power back to the states where it belongs, and to allow states to have the public policy discussions and to make those decisions among the respective states rather than having those policy decisions made at the U.S. Supreme Court.
So, you don't believe that if the court were to overturn Roe, that would undermine the right to privacy basis for other decisions like same-sex marriage?
Well, I think those are conversations that will be had at a later date. But I am not going to allow those who wish — wanting to undermine the impact of this decision to say — to use scare tactics in the public to say that those who disagree with all of these other decisions will simply use it as an avenue to undo the Obergefell decision or other decisions.
What we must focus on is saving the lives of innocent children, who have millions of which we have lost over the last 50 years, on — from the time January 22nd, 1973, that the Supreme Court got it wrong. It's been wrong every day since.
Which child was — which innocent life was lost that perhaps had the cure for cancer? Which child was lost that had the cure for Alzheimer's? Which child was lost that could have stopped some domestic violence case?
Attorney General Rutledge —
We will never know because the Supreme Court got it wrong 50 years ago.
If I may, one last question. What about what other states are doing? I understand how your state is prepared if this were to be overturned. We've seen other states worked to codify and even welcomed people who are seeking abortion care services into their states. Would you go after Arkansas residents who go to other states to get those same kinds of abortion services?
We will have to look at whether or not if — you know, those states allow those practices, I'm quite frankly appalled when I see Nevada and New York and their attorneys general and state leaders saying, abortions are going to be on demand in our state. We are ready to take care of a pregnant person.
As the mother of a three-year-old baby girl, there's no such thing as a pregnant person. Only women get pregnant. And I am appalled that they are advertising that they are going to be alive and well. But that is a public policy discussion to be had in those states. That is what this decision is about, is whether or not we will adhere to the Constitution and put the power back to the respective states.
That is the attorney general for the state of Arkansas, Leslie Rutledge, joining us tonight.
Mrs. Attorney General, thank you so much for your time.
Watch the Full Episode
Amna Nawaz serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour.
Tess Conciatori is a politics production assistant at PBS NewsHour.
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