Ark. Enacts Earliest Abortion Ban in U.S.; Legal Fight Anticipated

March 7, 2013 — As expected, the Arkansas House on Wednesday overrode Gov. Mike Beebe's (D) veto of a bill (SB 134) that prohibits abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy, thus enacting the nation's earliest abortion ban and setting up a likely legal challenge, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Senate on Tuesday voted to override the veto (Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 3/6).

The measure bans abortion after 12 weeks if a fetal heartbeat is detectable, with exceptions in cases of rape, incest, to save a woman's life or when the fetus has a fatal disorder. Doctors who violate the 12-week ban would have their licenses revoked by the state medical board (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/6).

The vote comes less than one week after the state Legislature overrode the governor's veto of a separate bill (HB 1037) prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Unlike the 20-week ban, which was effective immediately, the 12-week measure is not slated to take effect until 90 days after the Legislature ends its current session, which could be later this month or in April (DeMillo, AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/7).

Forthcoming Legal Fight

Abortion-rights groups pledged to file a legal challenge to the 12-week measure within the next few weeks. Before the House vote, Rita Sklar -- executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas -- said, "We are preparing the papers to go to court as we speak," adding, "It is flat-out unconstitutional."

ACLU will partner with the Center for Reproductive Rights to challenge the law. Nancy Northup, CRR's president, called the bill "bumper-sticker legislation with really no chance of standing up in court" (Smith, Politico, 3/6).

According to the New York Times, the strategy of pushing increasingly stringent abortion bans is a point of contention among abortion-rights opponents, some of whom fear it could backfire and lead to affirmation of existing limits. Prominent antiabortion-rights lawyer James Bopp -- general counsel to the National Right to Life Committee and an opponent of the Arkansas law -- called the legislation "futile." He added that lower courts are virtually certain to uphold Supreme Court precedent, and he and other legal experts have noted that the Supreme Court is unlikely to take up such a case (Eckholm, New York Times, 3/6).