New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy listens as Arkansas Gov. Asa Huchinson speaks at a press conference in Portland on Friday, July 15, 2022. The governors were in town for a three day National Governors Association conference. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, whose state just implemented a sweeping abortion ban, said his state wouldn’t prosecute women who go to states like Maine for abortions during a press conference on Friday.

Asked if policies in states like Maine, where Gov. Janet Mills has ordered state officials to not provide information that could lead to charges in other states for those getting abortions, Hutchinson played down the likelihood of such prosecutions happening.

“No woman is in jeopardy,” said Hutchinson, the outgoing chair of the National Governors Association and was speaking at the close of the conference. “This is handled like anything else — there’s not going to be a special enforcement unit.”

Every state is going to make its own decision on abortion that “reflect the values” of their state, Hutchinson said, something that the Dobbs ruling from the Supreme Court was all about. He also commented about a case that has gained national prominence of a 10-year-old rape victim traveling from Ohio, which has restricted abortion, to Indiana to get an abortion.

Asked if the 10-year-old would have been able to get an abortion in Arkansas, Hutchinson said similar situations had occurred in his state since he became governor in 2015. The Republican backs an exception to abortion laws for rape and incest, partially because of such experiences.

“That’s an area that the state does not need to intervene,” Hutchinson said. “Judgements are made by physicians.”

While state agencies like the state attorney general’s office and the Arkansas State Police play a role in prosecutions, it is ultimately the decision of local prosecutors to file criminal charges. However, Hutchinson’s comments indicated an unwillingness to devote state resources to charge Arkansas residents who leave the state for abortions.

However, one Arkansas state senator has publicly shown interest in a law codifying such prosecutions, saying it could be looked at in an upcoming special legislative session in August. Hutchinson would have the power to sign or veto such a law, though his veto could be overruled by a two-third majority of the Arkansas State Assembly.

Hutchinson will also be leaving the governor’s mansion next January and is widely expected to be succeeded by Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a former Trump Administration press secretary who is considered more conservative than Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said abortion was not discussed during the governors’ meeting, as there was a “full agenda” of issues they could make progress on. But he said open discussion on even divisive issues like abortion was important.

“While [Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy] and I may disagree on fundamental issues such as abortion, and what the state’s role is, I invite those conversations,” Hutchinson said.

Mills, who stood next to Hutchinson throughout the press conference, said her record on abortion was clear.

“I’ve always held the same view. I’ve never changed, never flip-flopped,” Mills said. “I will remain solidly pro-choice, and you can count on that.”

She also declined to say what she would like to see from her opponent Paul LePage on abortion. LePage, also an anti-abortion Republican, has said he doesn’t “have time for abortion,” but he hasn’t ruled out signing restrictions if elected.

Asked if the Supreme Court decision had put her in a better political position amid her re-election campaign, Mills said she couldn’t comment on that except to say that she was not happy with the Supreme Court decision.

“I just think it energizes a lot of people, justifiably so,” Mills said.

Murphy, who is now chair of the National Governors Association for the coming year, said the National Governors Association meeting was about  issues set for easy collaboration — subjects like mental health, education and tourism. Abortion was not among them.

“Let’s accept the fact that there are going to be things that we’re just not going to agree on,” Murphy said. “And this is one of them.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat who said he has relatives on Peaks Island in Casco Bay, said he has been steadfast in his belief that the Dobbs ruling from the Supreme Court that ended the constitutional right to abortion was wrongfully decided.

Asked about Mills’ policy of not providing information to officials from other states that could cause those who seek abortions to be prosecuted, Wolfe said it was good policy.

“Makes perfect sense,” Wolfe said.