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State House OKs monument plans

by Neal Earley | March 15, 2023 at 5:24 a.m.
Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, returns to her seat after listening to debate about SB307 on the floor of the House of Representatives at the Arkansas state Capitol on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

The Arkansas House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday to create a monument to unborn children aborted during the era of Roe v. Wade on the State Capitol grounds.

Senate Bill 307 would create a private fund to cover the costs of the monument. The Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission will oversee the selection of an artist to design the monument, and the secretary of state will have the final say over how it looks and where it is to be placed.

The House voted 60-19 to approve the bill, which has moved to the governor for action.

The construction and maintenance of the monument would be funded through private donations to the Monument to Unborn Children Display Fund.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, likened the monument to memorials on the Capitol grounds commemorating the Little Rock Nine, firefighters and World War II veterans.

"It was a holocaust in this nation and we forgot how precious human life is, and life won," Bentley said. "And this monument will be about loving, a place where women can go and remember what happened."

Some anti-abortion House members spoke against the bill, saying they did not feel that a memorial would represent Christian values as they understand them.

Rep. Steve Unger, R-Springdale, said a monument would look like "spiking the football" after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, clearing the way for Arkansas' abortion ban -- which outlaws the procedure except in the case of medical emergency to save the mother's life -- to take effect.

"Public memorials to our nation's wars where we faced 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."

Unger said he had "been in the trenches of the pro-life movement for over 30 years" but said a monument was not the way to honor the unborn.

"A better way to honor lost children would be an expenditure or fundraising campaign that supported pregnant mothers or gave aid to our broken foster system," Unger said. "I would vote for that."

Rep. Delia Haak, R-Siloam Springs, spoke in favor of the bill, recalling memorials commemorating the lives lost in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the Holocaust.

"We think of the Holocaust and people that were lost and the innocence that were killed and we want to remember so, it has been said, it won't happen again."

Rep. Jeremiah Moore, R-Clarendon, said even though he is "staunchly pro-life," he could not support the bill and feared unintended consequences.

"The pro-life cause today is best served by constructive dialogue with those who do not see eye-to-eye with us," he said. "This proposed monument won't bring back the 236,000 babies that have been so grievously lost to abortion -- not a single one -- but it will serve as a poke in the eye to all those who do not share our beliefs."

For others, like Rep. Cindy Crawford, R-Fort Smith, the bill "was not a poke in the eye" but a memorial asking "God forgive us for what we have done."

Crawford likened building a monument to the unborn to a memorial to remember the history of slavery in America, saying "you can ask slaves what happens when you forget."

"We have to remember slavery in America so it won't come back," Crawford said. "We have to remember abortion in America. We have to remember abortion in Arkansas so it won't come back."

According to the secretary of state's office, there are 17 monuments and memorials on the grounds of the State Capitol dedicated to:

Confederate soldiers

Confederate women

Former secretaries of state C.G. "Crip" Hall and Kelly Bryant

Vietnam War veterans

Medal of Honor recipients

The founders of the American Legion (Eternal Flame)

Law enforcement officers

Firefighters

The War of 1812

The American Revolution Bicentennial

Union and Confederate prisoners of war

The state's aluminum industry (bauxite boulder)

Arkansas' Centennial (granite boulder)

The Little Rock Nine

Gold Star families

The Ten Commandments


Print Headline: State House OKs monument plans

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