February 1, 2013 — The Arkansas Senate on Thursday approved a bill (SB 134) that would prohibit abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detectable via a vaginal ultrasound, which could be as early as five weeks, Reuters reports.
Under the bill, a woman seeking an abortion would be required to undergo the vaginal ultrasound. If a fetal heartbeat is detected, she would have to be told so in writing and informed that an abortion is, therefore, illegal (Parker, Reuters, 1/31). The legislation would permit exceptions in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is in danger.
If signed into law, the measure would be the earliest point in pregnancy that abortion is banned in the U.S., according to the AP/Huffington Post.
The legislation now heads to the House Public Health Committee, where it could be considered as early as next week.
Gov. Mike Beebe (D) said he is concerned the bill would violate federal law, adding, "[T]hat's the big concern right now -- does it run afoul of the Supreme Court or constitutional restrictions?"
State Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D), who voted against the bill, said, "I don't want to go back to when women used kerosene and clothes hangers because they didn't have a choice."
A day before the vote, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney told lawmakers that the organization would challenge the measure in court if it is enacted.
Ark. House Committee Passes Other Antiabortion Bills
In related news, the Arkansas House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday advanced two bills restricting abortion coverage and banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Under one bill (HB 1100), Arkansas insurers would be prohibited from offering most abortion coverage under part of the federal health reform law. The bill includes exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
The second measure (HB 1037) proposes banning abortion after 20 weeks based on the disputed idea that a fetus is capable of feeling pain at that stage. It would allow limited exceptions in cases when the woman's health is in jeopardy but not in cases of rape or incest (DeMillo/Stratford, AP/Huffington Post, 1/31).