By Andrew DeMillo
LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas lawmakers overrode a veto Wednesday and gave the state the most restrictive abortion law in the country — a near-ban on the procedure from the 12th week of pregnancy onward that is certain to end up in court.
A day after the Republican-led state Senate voted to override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto, the GOP-controlled House voted 56-33 to do the same. Only a simple majority was needed in each chamber. The vote comes less than a week after the Legislature overrode a veto of a separate bill banning most abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy. That bill took effect immediately after the final override vote, whereas the 12-week ban wouldn’t take effect until this summer.
Abortion rights proponents have already said they’ll sue to block the 12-week ban from taking effect. Beebe warned lawmakers that both measures are likely to fail in court and that the state would end up wasting money defending them if they became law.
The measures’ supporters, who expected court challenges, were undaunted. “Not the governor, nor anyone else other than the courts, can determine if something is constitutional or unconstitutional,” Rep. Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Hot Springs, said in urging his colleagues to override Beebe.
Bill sponsor Sen. Jason Rapert, a Republican from Conway, watched the vote from the House gallery and said a number of law firms have offered to help the state defend the laws in court, if it comes to that. “The eyes of the entire nation were on the Arkansas House of Representatives today,” he said.
Beebe rejected both measures for the same reasons, saying they were unconstitutional and contradicted the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion until a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. A fetus is generally considered viable at 22 to 24 weeks.
“The Arkansas Legislature has once again disregarded women’s health care and passed the most extreme anti-women’s health bill in the country,” said Jill June, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.
The 12-week ban would prohibit abortions from the point when a fetus’ heartbeat can typically be detected using an abdominal ultrasound. It includes exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders. The 20-week prohibition, which is based on the disputed claim that a fetus can feel pain by the 20th week and therefore deserves protection from abortion, includes all of the same exemptions except for fetal disorders.