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Commission debates where to build Arkansas Capitol’s upcoming ‘monument to the unborn’

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Commission debates where to build Arkansas Capitol’s upcoming ‘monument to the unborn’

May 14, 2024 | 4:50 pm ET
By Tess Vrbin
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Commission debates where to build Arkansas Capitol’s upcoming ‘monument to the unborn’
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Artist Lakey Goff (left) of Hot Springs Village chats with Brent Stamp, the Director of Capitol Facilities in the Arkansas Secretary of State's office, after the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission meeting on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate)

The Arkansas Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission on Tuesday tabled a vote on where to construct a “monument to the unborn” on the Capitol complex and will reconsider the issue at next month’s meeting.

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.” The law states that Arkansans had at least 236,243 abortions while Roe v. Wade was in place from 1973 to 2022.

In December, the commission voted to recommend that Secretary of State John Thurston approve a “living wall” of flora and fauna, proposed by artist Lakey Goff of Hot Springs Village, from the pool of nine monument designs submitted for consideration. Goff said the idea was partially inspired by a similar installation at New York City’s Liberty Park, which overlooks the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners and Goff disagreed about where on the Capitol grounds to build the monument.

Commissioner Michael Harry said the panel has envisioned placing it on a blank wall on a cooling tower enclosure behind the Capitol. The proposed site is near three other monuments: one for the Ten Commandments, one for Gold Star families and one for fallen firefighters.

​​“The idea was to completely change the vision of the back side of the Capitol,” Harry said.

Commission debates where to build Arkansas Capitol’s upcoming ‘monument to the unborn’
The proposed “monument to the unborn” at the Arkansas Capitol (Lakey Goff/livingwallarkansas.com)

The large amount of foot and car traffic near the site means the monument would be easy for the public to access and view, Harry said, but Goff said the monument should be a place where people can “sit and reflect.”

Goff’s preferred location would be the Supreme Court building across the street from the Capitol, she said, because it would provide more natural light to sustain the plants and would be quiet enough for visitors to hear the waterfall sounds from an underground sound system included in her design proposal.

She also said the Supreme Court is key to “the meaning behind this wall” because of the legal process that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Several areas of the Capitol grounds are “no-monument zones,” narrowing the amount of possible locations for a new monument, Harry said. He added that there shouldn’t be a “jumbled” group of monuments close together.

Goff proposed a potential third location between the Supreme Court and Capitol buildings, and she and Harry agreed to look into whether a monument is allowed there.

Thurston will have the final say on the monument’s location after the commission votes to send him a recommendation.

Funding

Abortion has been illegal in Arkansas, except to save the life of the mother, since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, sponsored the 2019 “trigger” abortion ban that went into effect upon the Supreme Court’s decision.

Supporters of abortion access have until July 5 to collect signatures for a proposed ballot measure, approved by Attorney General Tim Griffin, that would create a constitutional right to abortion “within 18 weeks of fertilization” and include exceptions for rape, incest, a fatal fetal anomaly or to “protect the pregnant female’s life or physical health.”

The state will not use public money to construct the abortion monument because Act 310 established a trust fund to raise money via gifts, grants and donations.

Fundraising for the wall is about to begin now that a website including the design and ways to donate has gone live, Goff said. She said at last month’s meeting that there will be “more than enough money” to maintain the plants, in response to concerns from commission members, Little Rock Public Radio reported.

Federal judge considers letting Arkansas Supreme Court rule first on 10 Commandments monument case

Goff’s design proposal included an estimate of $215,000 for the first year of maintenance for the monument. Brent Stamp, the Director of Capitol Facilities at Thurston’s office, said Tuesday that building the monument as proposed would likely cost more than ​​$60,500.

Since no state funds will be used for the project, there is no need for a competitive bidding process for the monument’s construction, Harry said in response to questions from Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton.

Bentley and Hammer sponsored Act 310 in the Legislature, and both were present at Tuesday’s meeting.

Hammer also co-sponsored a 2015 law authorizing the construction of the Ten Commandments monument, which has been the subject of ongoing federal litigation. Several plaintiffs have claimed the monument violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government entities from favoring an establishment of religion.