Arkansas soon will have the nation's most restrictive abortion law --a near-ban on the procedure from the 12th week of pregnancy onward --unless a lawsuit or court action intervenes.
Lawmakers inthe Republican-dominated Legislature defied Gov. Mike Beebe, overridingthe Democrat's veto. The House voted 56-33 on Wednesday to overrideBeebe's veto, a day after the Senate voted to do the same.
Thevotes come less than a week after the legislature overrode a veto of aseparate bill banning most abortions starting in the 20th week ofpregnancy. That bill took effect immediately after the final overridevote, whereas the 12-week ban won't take effect until this summer.
Abortionrights proponents already have said they'll sue to block the 12-weekban from taking effect. Beebe warned lawmakers that both measures wouldend up wasting taxpayers' money with the state defending them in courtwhere, he said, they are likely to fail.
The measures' supporters, who expected court challenges, were undaunted.
"Notthe governor, nor anyone else other than the courts, can determine ifsomething is constitutional or unconstitutional," Rep. Bruce Westerman, aRepublican from Hot Springs, said in urging his colleagues to overrideBeebe.
Bill sponsor Sen. Jason Rapert, a Republican fromConway, watched the vote from the House gallery and said a number of lawfirms have offered to help the state defend the laws in court, if itcomes to that.
"I'm just grateful that this body hascontinued to stand up for the bills that have passed. The eyes of theentire nation were on the Arkansas House of Representatives today," hesaid.
Beebe rejected both measures for the same reasons,saying they are unconstitutional and contradict the U.S. Supreme Court1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion until a fetus couldviably survive outside the womb. A fetus is generally considered viableat 22 to 24 weeks.
"The Arkansas Legislature has onceagain disregarded women's health care and passed the most extremeanti-women's health bill in the country," said Jill June, the CEO ofPlanned Parenthood of the Heartland. "With this bill, the ArkansasLegislature will force many women to seek unsafe care."
The12-week ban would prohibit abortions from the point when a fetus'heartbeat can typically be detected using an abdominal ultrasound. Itincludes exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highlylethal fetal disorders. The 20-week prohibition, which is based on thedisputed claim that a fetus can feel pain by the 20th week and thereforedeserves protection from abortion, includes all of the same exemptionsexcept for fetal disorders.
Six Democrats joined withRepublicans in voting to override the veto of the 12-week ban. Lastweek, only two Democrats voted to override the veto of the 20-week ban.
"Ithink a lot of people felt some pressure after the last vote," saidHouse Minority Leader Greg Leding, a Democrat from Fayetteville.
Themeasure is among several abortion restrictions lawmakers have backedsince Republicans won control of the House and Senate in the Novemberelection. Republicans hold 21 of the 35 Senate seats, and 51 of the 100seats in the House. It takes a simple majority in both chambers tooverride.
Beebe has signed into law one of thosemeasures, a prohibition on most abortion coverage by insurersparticipating in the exchange created under the health care law.
Rep.Ann Clemmer, a Republican of Benton serving her third term in theHouse, asked her colleagues to support the override attempt, saying hervotes on anti-abortion bills this year were the first time she couldfully express her view on issue at the Capitol. When Democrats heldcontrol, such bills never made it this far.
"If I saythat I'm pro-life, at some point I have to do something about what I sayI believe," said Clemmer, the bill's sponsor in the House.
Unlikethe 20-week ban, which took effect immediately, the 12-week restrictionwon't take effect until 90 days after the House and Senate adjourn.Lawmakers aren't expected to wrap up this year's session until laterthis month or April.
In vetoing both measures, Beebe hascited the costs to the state if it has to defend either ban in court.The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has vowed to sue if thestate enacts the 12-week ban and said it is considering legal actionover the 20-week restriction as well.
"I think today, forwhatever reason, the Arkansas House turned its back on the women ofArkansas and said, we don't think you're capable of making your owndecisions," said Rita Sklar, ACLU of Arkansas' executive director. Sklarsaid the group planned to file suit in federal court in the next coupleweeks.
Beebe noted that the state paid nearly $148,000to attorneys for plaintiffs who successfully challenged a 1997 late-termabortion ban.
The original version of Rapert's billwould have banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, buthe changed the measure after facing resistance from some lawmakersworried that it would require the use of a vaginal probe.
Womenwho have abortions would not face prosecution under Rapert's bill, butdoctors who perform abortions in violation of the 12-week ban could havetheir medical licenses revoked.