The Arkansas state Senate voted Tuesday to override the Democratic governor’s veto of a bill that would outlaw most abortions if the fetus is older than 12 weeks and if its heartbeat can be heard.
The Republican-led chamber voted 20-14 to override the veto by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe. The Arkansas state House of Representatives is expected to hold a vote on overriding the bill, possibly Wednesday.
Pro-choice advocates have called the Arkansas abortion bill the “most extreme” in the nation.
“We hope that the House has the courage and principle to vote down this shameful measure, by which politicians seek to usurp private medical decisions that a woman needs to make with her family and her doctor,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project.
The 12-week abortion bill, called the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, would prohibit abortions if a fetal heartbeat is heard using an abdominal ultrasound. It would not apply in cases of rape, incest or endangerment of the mother’s life, or when the fetus has a “highly lethal” disorder.
The leading proponents of Arkansas’ 12-week abortion bill said that such a law is needed to bring fresh legal clarity to the abortion issue.
“Judges don’t typically rule unless a law is passed first,” said state Rep. Ann Clemmer. “We believe that it is time for the court to look at it.”
In his veto letter, Mr. Beebe cited his oath to “preserve, protect and defend” state and federal constitutions.
“Because it would impose a ban on a woman’s right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion well before viability, Senate Bill 134 blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court,” he said.
State Sen. Jason Rapert disagreed.
“That’s not valid,” he said. “The U.S. Constitution says nothing whatsoever about abortion. This is governed by case law.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights said the 12-week abortion bill was “the most extreme abortion ban in the country,” and promised to challenge it in court if enacted.
Last week, the Arkansas General Assembly overrode Mr. Beebe’s veto of another abortion bill called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
That law, which is now in effect, disallows most abortions after the 20th week of gestation, based on evidence that fetuses are capable of feeling pain by that age and should not suffer abortion. Opponents dispute such evidence of “pain.”
The “pain-capable” law permits exceptions similar to those in the “heartbeat” bill.