March 6, 2013 — The Arkansas House could vote as early as Wednesday to override Gov. Mike Beebe's (D) veto of legislation (SB 134) that would ban abortion as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is detectable, Politico reports (Smith, Politico, 3/5). On Tuesday, the Senate voted 20-14 to override the veto.
The measure includes exceptions in cases of rape, incest, to save a woman's life or when the fetus has a fatal disorder (Parker, Reuters, 3/5). An earlier version of the bill would have banned abortion at five weeks of pregnancy, but it was changed after opponents argued that it would have mandated the use of a transvaginal ultrasound. Doctors who violate the 12-week ban would have their licenses revoked by the state medical board (Parker, Reuters, 3/4).
Advocates on both sides expect the bill to become law, according to Politico (Politico, 3/6). Arkansas recently became the latest state to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but SB 134 would make it the first state to ban abortion as early as 12 weeks. Although both measures violate the U.S Constitution as interpreted in Roe v. Wade, the 12-week ban would have a more significant effect in Arkansas, according to the Washington Post's "Wonkblog." No abortions after 20 weeks have occurred in the state since 2009, but more than one in 10 abortions in Arkansas are performed after 12 weeks (Kliff, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 3/5).
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has pledged to sue if the state enacts the 12-week ban and also is considering a legal challenge to the 20-week measure. Rita Sklar, the group's executive director, called the ban the most "intrusive abortion law in the country," adding that "it sets Arkansas back decades in public perception" (Demillo, AP/Miami Herald, 3/5).
In a veto letter on Monday, Beebe said the 12-week ban "blatantly contradicts" the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion until viability, or about 24 weeks (AP/Politico, 3/4). He also questioned the potential costs of defending the measure against legal challenges, which could prove "very costly to the taxpayers of our state" (Botelho, CNN, 3/4).
After the Senate override vote on Tuesday, Sen. Jason Rapert (R) -- the bill's author -- told lawmakers that the governor's assertion that the ban is unconstitutional is "not valid." Rapert said, "The U.S. Constitution says nothing whatsoever about abortion. This is governed by case law" (AP/Miami Herald, 3/5).