Arkansas lawmakers Thursday enacted an anti-abortion bill that is the first of its kind to reach a governor’s desk — and that detractors called “the most extreme” ban in the nation.
The bill, known as the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, would ban most abortions after 12 weeks of gestation if a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Lawmakers sent it to Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, for his signature.
Mr. Beebe did not immediately say what he would do about the “heartbeat” bill. However, in a veto message he sent earlier in the week on another bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks, the governor cited concerns about that bill’s constitutionality and costs to the state if it were forced to defend legislation that was inherently flawed.
The Center for Reproductive Rights called the 12-week abortion bill “the most extreme abortion ban in the country” and promised to “fight this unconstitutional law if enacted.”
Also Thursday, the Arkansas General Assembly voted to override Mr. Beebe’s veto of the 20-week abortion ban, called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Upon the legislative votes, the law went into immediate effect.
The National Right to Life Committee praised the lawmakers for enacting the “pain-capable” abortion ban.
“Unborn children jerk away from painful stimuli, their stress hormones increase, and they require anesthesia before any fetal surgery,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, who tracks state legislation for the pro-life committee. The law will protect unborn children who are capable “of feeling pain from the violence of abortion,” she said.
Arkansas is now the eighth state to have passed such “fetal-pain” bills, although laws in Arizona and Georgia are being challenged in court.
The pro-life movement is divided on the “heartbeat” bills.
Many pro-life supporters believe “heartbeat” bills will force an end to abortion because, in the words of one leader, “it’s hard to be against a bill that says that once a baby’s heart is beating, you shouldn’t take his life.”
Other pro-life supporters fear that such measures will not survive constitutional challenges and hand the anti-abortion movement a serious setback in the courts.
The Arkansas “heartbeat” bill says that any woman seeking an abortion at gestation of 12 weeks or later must undergo an examination to detect a fetal heartbeat.
If a fetal heartbeat is heard, the abortion will be prohibited except in cases of rape or incest, to preserve the life of the mother, or in the case of a “highly lethal fetal disorder.”
A “heartbeat” bill failed in Ohio last year.