At age 41, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders may be the youngest governor in the United States, but she ranks among the GOP governors who support the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the country. So it was good to see Sanders’ hypocrisy about her devotion to the “sanctity of life” exposed in an interview Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
Arkansas’ first female governor was put on the spot when moderator Margaret Brennan, in a display of actual journalism, asked her to account for the fact that Arkansas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country.
Lest anyone have any doubts about how vehemently Sanders opposes abortion rights, just a few weeks after taking office, she signed a proclamation making Jan. 22, 2023, the “Day of Tears in Arkansas” in “remembrance of the innocent unborn children who have lost their lives to abortion.” The date happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing abortion rights nationwide.
And in March 2023, Sanders signed a law allowing a donation-funded monument to be put up on Arkansas State Capitol grounds memorializing the fetuses that were never born in Arkansas as a result of Roe v. Wade, NPR reported. The monument would also celebrate the end of legal abortion in Arkansas. NPR said the monument has yet to be constructed due to difficulty finding an appropriate design to “tastefully immortalize an aborted fetus.”
Her vehement opposition to abortion rights reflects the views she inherited from her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist pastor who said he got into politics because of his anti-abortion beliefs. In 2008, as a presidential candidate, Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and several state nominating contests before Arizona Sen. John McCain won the nomination.
The Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade enabled Arkansas to put into place a 2019 “trigger ban” law under which abortion is now illegal in the state except for a narrow exception to save the pregnant person’s life in a “medical emergency.” There are no exceptions for rape or incest.
According to a CBS transcript of the “Face the Nation” interview, Sanders boasted:
Look, I’m proud of the fact that Arkansas is one of the most pro-life states in the country. I’m unapologetically pro-life, I believe that we are a culture that protects life, that values life. I think that’s who we are as a country. And I’ll continue to support those measures.
And then Brennan asked:
So, your state, you’re talking about the sanctity of life, your state had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, according to the CDC up until about 2021. Arkansas is one of the few states that hasn’t extended postpartum care for mothers. Why don’t you want those moms to get care for a full 12 months, as is being offered, instead of just 60 days?
And then Sanders engaged in a back-and-forth with the moderator reminiscent of the news conferences when Sanders was President Donald Trump’s press secretary and Brennan was a White House correspondent.
Sanders: Well, I’m gonna have to disagree with the premise of your question saying that I don’t want that. I certainly want us to do everything that we can to help during pregnancy and well after a child is born, which is why we have done things like focus on the foster and adoption care, we’ve put significant funding into our pregnancy crisis centers, we’re focusing on things that help our mothers, including bring your kids to work at state government. We’ve expanded maternity leave for state employees, we included that in our education package. We have taken a number of steps that are very positive in this front. And we’re going to continue to do that as long as I’m governor.
Brennan: But the states of Mississippi, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, they did extend for 12 months rather than the 60 days. So, I’m just wondering specifically on that option, why you opted out?
Sanders: We’re gonna continue to look at options that we feel like best help people here in the state of Arkansas, we’ve done that in a number of ways and we’re going to continue to do that over the course of hopefully the next seven years while I’m governor of Arkansas.
So instead of providing extended postpartum care to poor and low-income women, Sanders’ solution is to force them to bring their pregnancies to term and then encourage them to give up their babies for adoption or foster care. And what about those babies with birth defects that require extensive medical care?
And as for so-called pregnancy crisis centers, Vox reported that these centers are mostly religiously affiliated, offering services like pregnancy tests and resources such as diapers or baby clothes, but their primary mission is to dissuade women from choosing abortion. They have almost nothing to do with providing health care. In December, Arkansas lawmakers allowed the state to run a taxpayer-funded $1 million program to provide funds to such pregnancy resource centers, the nonprofit Arkansas Advocate reported.
The March of Dimes, which is dedicated to improving the health of mothers and babies, gave Arkansas an “F” grade for pre-term births. In 2021, the state’s infant mortality rate was 8.6 per 1,000 live births, compared to a national average of 5.4. The infant mortality rate among Black people was 12.3, 1.4 times the state rate. Arkansas has the second highest infant mortality rate in the U.S., with Mississippi the worst at 9.39, according to Statista.
Little Rock Public Radio reported in June 2023 that Arkansas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country:
In Arkansas, there are about 45 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,00 births, according to Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit that works to improve access to maternity care. The U.S as a whole has about 30 pregnancy related deaths per 100,000 births.
On Sunday, Brennan also asked Sanders about efforts to put measures on the ballot that would repeal the strict abortion ban and give a limited right to abortion up until 18 weeks of conception.
Sanders indicated that she wouldn’t support a ballot initiative that would let Arkansans express their opinion on abortion rights and described it as an “overwhelmingly pro-life state.”
I’m proud of that fact and proud of where we are. And we’ll continue to push for things that I think protect all innocent human life. … We are looking at every aspect and making sure that we’re doing what we can to protect and value life at every stage here in the state of Arkansas.
Here is a video of Sanders’ interview on “Face the Nation.”
In November, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin wrote an opinion in which he refused to put a proposed constitutional amendment ensuring a limited right to abortion on the 2024 statewide ballot, the Arkansas Advocate reported. Griffin said several aspects of the ballot language needed to be clarified and other improvements were needed before he would consider it for approval.
The Advocate wrote:
Under the proposal, state government entities would not have been allowed to “prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict” Arkansans’ access to abortion “within 18 weeks of conception.” ….
The proposed amendment would also have required access to abortion in cases of rape, incest, “in the event of a fatal fetal anomaly” and to protect the life or health of the pregnant individual.
The Advocate said the pro-democracy nonprofit For AR People formed the committee Arkansans for Limited Government in support of the proposed amendment. The group said it would craft a revised amendment that would address the attorney general’s objections.
“We are also heartened by the overwhelming support we have received from Arkansans across the state, including pledges to sign a future petition in favor of the Arkansas Reproductive Healthcare Amendment,” the committee said in a statement. “Residents want sensible reproductive policy.”
There have already been successful ballot initiatives to provide access to abortion in Republican-controlled states, including Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, and most recently, Ohio. More abortion initiatives will be on state ballots in 2024.
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