LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Thursday he'll sign into law legislation prohibiting insurers from covering most abortions in an exchange created under the federal health care law, as lawmakers advanced a separate measure banning the procedure 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
Beebe said he'd sign the restriction on abortion coverage moments after the Senate gave final approval of the legislation by a 25-9 vote. Beebe also stepped up his criticism of the 12-week ban that cleared a House panel vote later that day.
The coverage ban includes exemptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. The bill also allows abortion coverage through supplemental policies, but the bill's opponents say that option is not available in Arkansas. Beebe said he believes the legislation merely restates existing law banning public money for abortions.
"It doesn't really change the law," Beebe, a Democrat, told reporters Thursday morning. "It's already under the federal law, which the exchange is created by, that's already banned."
But opponents of the measure say that since separate riders for abortions aren't available in Arkansas, the proposal would effectively prevent women who buy insurance coverage through the exchange from purchasing policies using their own money that would cover abortions. Supporters of the measure say 18 other states have passed similar restrictions.
"I find it immensely surprising that a body that is supposed to look out for everybody and do the right thing, that something we afford ourselves we're not going to afford them because they have to buy on the exchange," said Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, who voted against the measure.
The bill is among several new abortion restrictions that are gaining support in the Legislature after Republicans won control of the state House and Senate last year. Five Democrats joined with 20 Republicans to support the coverage ban.
The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee endorsed by a voice vote a separate proposal that would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
The bill was amended to ban abortions if a heartbeat is detected using an abdominal ultrasound and would not ban the procedure before 12 weeks. It includes an exemption for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
The original version of the bill by state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, didn't specify how a heartbeat would be detected and would have banned the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Opponents have said detecting a heartbeat that early would have required a vaginal probe ultrasound.
"We've listened to the other side and incorporated willingly the objections," Rep. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, the House sponsor of the bill, told lawmakers. "The right to an abortion in the first twelve weeks is protected in this bill and these amendments."