The Arkansas State Capitol. (Dwain Hebda/Arkansas Advocate)
The Arkansas Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission is seeking potential designs for a “monument to the unborn” at the state Capitol, in accordance with a new state law.
Act 310 of 2023 authorizes the Secretary of State to decide where to place “a suitable monument commemorating unborn children aborted during the era of Roe v. Wade,” meaning from 1973 to 2022. The law states that Arkansans had at least 236,243 abortions while Roe v. Wade was in place.
Interested artists have until Sept. 30 to submit designs to Secretary of State John Thurston’s office, and “pro-life groups in Arkansas” will have a say in which design the Arts and Grounds Commission chooses, according to a Friday press release.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed Act 310 on March 16. The law passed the Legislature with solely Republican support.
Several legislative Republicans voted present or did not vote on Act 310, and a few voted against it, including Reps. Steve Unger, R-Springdale, and Jeremiah Moore, R-Clarendon. Both said they opposed abortion but believed a monument would not be a good way to further the anti-abortion cause.
The state will not use public money to build the monument because Act 310 established a trust fund to raise money via gifts, grants and donations. The fund has not yet received any contributions since the law went into effect a month ago, said Chris Powell, a spokesman for Thurston’s office.
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Abortion has been illegal in Arkansas, with a narrow exception to save the life of the mother, since Roe v. Wade was overturned by another U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in June 2022.
The “monument to the unborn” is not the only controversial monument pushed by conservatives in the Legislature in recent years.
The Capitol has had a monument to the 10 Commandments since 2017, created by Act 1231 of 2015. Then-Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, co-sponsored Act 1231.
Hammer is now a senator and was the lead sponsor of Act 310 this year.
Less than 24 hours after the 10 Commandments was erected, a mentally ill man toppled it with his vehicle. A new monument, protected by concrete bollards, was erected in 2018 and is still standing.
Several groups quickly filed federal lawsuits for the removal of the monument, claiming it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government entities from favoring an establishment of religion.
The lawsuits were combined into one suit. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker heard arguments from both sides in July and has yet to issue a decision.
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