Ark. House Approves Abortion Restrictions

February 5, 2013 — The Arkansas House on Monday approved two bills restricting abortion coverage and banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the AP/Miami Herald reports.

Lawmakers voted 75-20 to approve a bill (HB 1037) that would ban abortion after 20 weeks based on the disputed theory that a fetus is capable of feeling pain at that stage. The measure does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

In addition, the House approved a measure (HB 1100) that would prohibit insurers from offering abortion coverage in the state's health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148). The measure, passed on a 77-15 vote, includes exceptions for rape, incest or to save the woman's life.

State Rep. Butch Wilkins (D), the bill's author, said the legislation would prevent public funds from being used to pay for abortions; however, opponents argued state and federal law already prohibit that.

Bettina Brownstein, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said her group is concerned by both measures, which she argues are "both unconstitutional" and "cruel to women and families."

Bills Head to the Senate

Both measures now head to the Senate, which last week approved a bill (SB 134) that would prohibit abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detectable. The measure would ban abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy, making it the most stringent ban in the nation. State Sen. Jason Rapert (R), the bill's sponsor, intends to bring his proposal to the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee later this week.

Abortion-rights supporters have pledged to sue if the state enacts the Senate's "heartbeat" measure, which violates the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that prohibits the banning of abortion prior to fetal viability. Opponents of the law also contend it is invasive because it requires the use of a vaginal ultrasound.

Gov. Mike Beebe (D) said he is reviewing the bills the House approved on Monday. He noted that research by his office suggests that the Senate's "heartbeat" measure would not withstand a legal challenge. "Obviously, we don't want to pass unconstitutional laws and end up in court costing taxpayers tons of money," he said (DeMillo, AP/Miami Herald, 2/4).