LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Senate voted Thursday to prohibit most abortions if a heartbeat is detected, ignoring warnings from opponents that banning the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy would invite lawsuits.
If enacted, the ban would be the most stringent in the nation. The Ohio House passed a similar ban in 2011, but it was sidelined in the Senate last year over concerns that it might be found unconstitutional. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe told reporters Thursday that's the same concern that he's researching.
"I'm waiting on lawyers. I think that's the big concern right now — does it run afoul of the Supreme Court or constitutional restrictions?" Beebe said. "That's the first thing we're looking at."
The Senate approved the new ban the same day that a House committee advanced two other abortion restrictions, part of a package of legislation anti-abortion groups believe are poised to become law now that Republicans control the state General Assembly.
The Senate approved the proposed "Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act" by a 26-8 vote. The measure, which now heads to a House committee, requires a test to detect a fetal heartbeat before an abortion is performed. If one is detected, a woman could not have an abortion, except in cases of rape, incest and if a mother's life is in danger.
Similar legislation is also being considered in North Dakota and Mississippi. All have faced complaints from abortion rights groups that it runs afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
"I'm asking you to stand up for life, and I believe when there is a heartbeat, based upon even the standard the Supreme Court has utilized, you cannot have a viable child without a heartbeat," Sen. Jason Rapert, the bill's sponsor, told lawmakers before they approved the legislation.
Five Democrats joined all 21 of the Senate's Republicans to vote for the restriction. Two Democratic lawmakers who spoke out against the bill said they believed it would be an invasion of women's rights to make decisions about their own health if the state enacted the ban.
"I don't want to go back to when women used kerosene and clothes hangers because they didn't have a choice," Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, told lawmakers.
A day earlier, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union told a Senate panel that the group would sue the state if it enacted the new restriction. Opponents have also noted that the only way to detect a fetal heartbeat at six weeks is by using a vaginal probe.
"Can you imagine what kind of feeling that would cause when inserted into a woman?" Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, asked Rapert on the Senate floor. Flowers voted against the bill.
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