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Ark. Senate passes measure to ban most abortions

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 31, 2013 at 5:37 pm •  Published: January 31, 2013

"No," Rapert, R-Conway, replied.

The bill could go before the House Public Health Committee as early as next week, but its fate is uncertain. Democrats control 11 of the 20 seats on the panel, and Republicans only hold a 51 seat majority in the 100-member House.

Though the Legislature has considered abortion restrictions in recent years, most proposals haven't made it to the governor's desk under Democrat majorities. Beebe, however, has backed some abortion restrictions. He signed into law a proposal two years ago placing new regulations on the clinics that offer the abortion pill and in 2009 he signed legislation that mirrors a federal law banning late-term abortions.

Abortion rights advocates criticized the Senate for passing the legislation.

"This bill not only jeopardizes the health of all women who become pregnant in Arkansas, it's also unconstitutional," said Murry Newbern, lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. "It creates an undue burden for a woman seeking safe abortion and contradicts Roe v. Wade. "

The two other abortion restrictions that passed the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee earlier Thursday including legislation that would ban most abortions starting at the twentieth week of a woman's pregnancy based on the disputed notion that a fetus is capable of feeling pain at that point. The measure provides for some exceptions involving the health of the mother but it does not exempt rape or incest.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, said that passing the legislation was a moral obligation. Mayberry's wife, Julie, testified about her experience carrying to term a child with a disability.

Lawmakers on the House committee also approved legislation, without any discussion, that would prohibit most abortion coverage offered by Arkansas insurers under part of the federal health care overhaul. That measure does include rape and incest exceptions. It was approved by a voice vote with some dissent.

Abortion opponents hailed the votes Thursday as their biggest gains in years in Arkansas.

"I think a lot of people are beginning to understand that the people of Arkansas by and large are pro-life and you're seeing that reflected in how people vote here," said Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council.


Associated Press Writer Chuck Bartels contributed to this report.