LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas became the eighth state Thursday to enact a near-ban on abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy, and by next week it could outlaw most procedures from the 12th week onward, which would give it the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.
The Republican-led Senate voted 19-14 along party lines to override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of a bill barring most abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy that was based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain by that point. The Arkansas House voted to override the veto Wednesday. A simple majority was needed in each chamber.
That law, which took effect immediately but which will likely be challenged in court, includes exemptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Senate President Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, voted to override the veto, but later told reporters he wasn't sure the new law would survive a constitutional challenge.
"If it was an easy answer, then people wouldn't be raising that subject," he said after the vote.
After overriding the veto, the Senate voted 26-8 in support of a separate measure that would outlaw most abortions starting in the 12th week of pregnancy. In addition to the exemptions for rape, incest and the mother's life, it would allow abortions when lethal fetal conditions are detected.
The proposed 12-week ban, which would ban abortions from the point when a fetus' heartbeat can generally be detected through an abdominal ultrasound, would give Arkansas the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
"This extreme legislation would insert politics into women's personal medical decisions, and we urge Governor Beebe to veto it immediately," Richards said.
Beebe declined to say whether he'd veto the 12-week ban, and has until next week to decide. Unlike the 20-week ban, which took effect immediately, the 12-week restriction if enacted would take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. The Legislature is not expected to adjourn this year's session until March or April.
The governor has said he thinks it's on even shakier legal ground than the 20-week ban, which he believes contradicts the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion until a fetus can viably survive outside of the womb, which is typically at 22 to 24 weeks.
Beebe said Thursday's override did nothing to allay his concerns about the new abortion restrictions, including the amount of money the state will have to spend defending them. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office on Thursday estimated that the $118,000 the state paid in attorneys' fees to challengers who were successful in overturning a 1997 late-term abortion ban would equal about $163,000 today when adjusted for inflation.