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Arkansas plans to memorialize the end of legal abortion in the state

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

An Arkansas bill allowing for a so-called monument to the unborn on Arkansas State Capitol grounds was signed into law last spring. It's intended to memorialize the abortions performed in the state during the nearly 50 years the procedure was legal under Roe v. Wade, but the law doesn't specify what an appropriate memorial would look like. And as Little Rock Public Radio's Josie Lenora reports, this has led to some debate and discomfort over what design to choose for such a public and political piece of art.

JOSIE LENORA: The memorial is supposed to celebrate the end of legal abortion in the state. Here's Senator Kim Hammer, a Republican lawmaker from the suburbs of Little Rock, giving his pitch for the monument to the Arkansas legislature back in March.

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KIM HAMMER: It is a monument that is recognizing the 236,243-plus babies that were never born as a result of Roe v. Wade.

LENORA: Hammer says that number, which is also included in the text of the law without citation, comes from the Department of Health. NPR was unable to independently verify. In his speech, Hammer went on to say the monument would be, quote, "tastefully done."

TONY LERARIS: I just don't know how you tastefully immortalize an aborted fetus.

LENORA: Tony Leraris is on the commission tasked with recommending a final design to the secretary of state, who will ultimately decide. After the passage, the public was allowed to submit artistic ideas for the monument, which will be funded with private donations, not taxpayer dollars. One proposal is for a marble sarcophagus carved with wombs. Another shows a blindfolded fetus balanced on an umbilical cord pedestal, one of several fetus statue designs. Leraris was uncomfortable with the task his group was given.

LERARIS: I was just dumbfounded that we would even consider some of those monuments on our Capitol.

LENORA: At a December meeting, the commission decided to pair two of the submissions - a living wall of greenery and a plaque with quotes from the Bible and the Arkansas Constitution.

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MARY BENTLEY: I'll never forget the day that we passed the trigger bill here in Arkansas.

LENORA: Republican Representative Mary Bentley, who co-sponsored the monument bill, says it will celebrate the enactment of Arkansas's near-total abortion ban.

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BENTLEY: When we passed that bill, I thought, Lord, I don't know if I'll ever be alive to see the day that we end the slaughter of innocent children in our nation.

LENORA: Bentley said a monument to the unborn will fit in well next to civil rights monuments and memorials for fallen soldiers already on the Capitol grounds. A bill to create a monument passed easily. Republicans make up a supermajority in the legislature, meaning their bills almost always become law. Only two Republicans spoke against it. One was Representative Steve Unger, who has advocated against abortion his entire career.

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STEVE UNGER: From a Christian perspective, this has the look and feel of spiking the football. It looks like gloating. The Jesus that I know who was called Friend of Sinners never did that.

LENORA: One Democrat also spoke against the bill, Senator Clarke Tucker. He noted that not all Arkansans are anti-abortion.

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CLARKE TUCKER: 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 very painful for a lot of women who have gotten abortions in the last 50 years.

LENORA: The monument will most likely be placed near a statue of the Ten Commandments and a Confederate war memorial also on the state capitol grounds. It'll be a while before anyone gets to see it, though - the fundraising effort hasn't even started yet.

For NPR news, I'm Josie Lenora in Little Rock. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Josie Lenora