The majority-Republican House approved by a 60-19 vote a proposal allowing the creation of a “monument to the unborn” on the Capitol grounds. The bill, which the Senate approved earlier this month, requires the secretary of state to permit and arrange the placement of the monument.
It also requires the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission to oversee the selection of the artist and the design of the monument with input from anti-abortion groups.
Republican Rep. Mary Bentley, the bill’s House sponsor, said the legislation would allow the state to raise private money for a memorial to “remember those children we were not able to protect and we will not be able to forget.”
A law Arkansas approved in 2019 banning nearly all abortions took effect last year when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1973 Roe decision. Arkansas’ ban only allows abortions to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency.
Tennessee lawmakers in 2018 approved legislation allowing a similar privately funded monument on its Capitol grounds. The monument has not yet been installed.
The Arkansas monument proposal drew objections from some anti-abortion Republicans who said it would be counterproductive, and that efforts should instead focus on other needs such as helping pregnant women and foster children.
Republican Rep. Steve Unger, one of two Republicans who voted against the measure, said the monument “has the look and feel of spiking the football” following last year’s ruling.
“Public memorials to our nation’s wars where we face an external threat are right and proper,” Unger said. “A memorial to an ongoing culture war where we seem to be shooting at each other is not.”
Republican Rep. Jeremiah Moore, who also voted against the measure, said the monument would amount to a “poke in the eye to all those who do not share our beliefs.”
“This monument will do nothing for the pro-life cause as we move forward together,” Moore said. “It will only be used as a weapon to rally against pro-life values through fundraising and stirring up anger and vitriol.”
Ten Republicans and one Democrat voted “present” on the bill, which has the same effect as voting against it.
The legislation doesn’t specify where the monument would go on the Capitol grounds, which includes several other monuments, including one honoring the nine Black students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School. The Capitol grounds also include a Ten Commandments monument that was installed in 2018.
Democrats have criticized the proposal, saying it’s politicizing the Capitol grounds rather than focusing on monuments that unite people.
“This is injecting a contentious political issue to the grounds of the state Capitol, and it’s doing so in a way that I would have to imagine is going to be painful for a lot of women who have gotten abortions in the last 50 years,” Democratic Sen. Clarke Tucker told the Senate when it took up the proposal earlier this month.