Arkansas Passes Nation's Strictest Abortion Law

  • March 06, 2013
  • By Jake Grovum (2)
The Arkansas legislature overrode Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of legislation by Sen. Jason Rapert (pictured) that would ban most abortions from the 12th week of pregnancy onward. (AP)

Updated: 10:57am, March 7, 2013.

Arkansas has enacted the nation's strictest anti-abortion law, banning all abortions after 12 weeks from conception. It is the earliest such ban in the nation.

The law would also require an ultrasound be performed before any abortion procedure, and if a heartbeat was detected, the abortion could not proceed.

The measure would affect one in 10 abortions performed in the state, according to federal statistics cited by The Washington Post.

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to override Democratic governor Mike Beebe's veto of the measure, a day after the Senate did the same.

Opponents of abortion have praised the measure, and its backers in the legislature had gained national renown as they led the charge to enact it. Even before the override, though, opponents were pledging to challenge the measure in court. Beebe and most Democrats opposed the legislation, which will take effect this summer.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in its rulings on abortion, has generally said states cannot ban the procedures before a fetus becomes “viable,” or would be able to survive on its own outside the womb. That's generally thought to be the case a full 10 weeks or so later than the 12-week mark established by Arkansas' new law. Earlier this session, lawmakers also overrode a gubernatorial veto to enact a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.

But the 12-week measure is significantly more restrictive and therefore more vulnerable to a legal challenge. Beebe, in vetoing the latest measure earlier this week, cited those concerns in his message to lawmakers.

“Because it would impose a ban on a woman's right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion well before viability, Senate Bill 134 blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court,” he wrote.

Supporters of the 12-week ban say a fetus would be viable long before the 20-week period, and cite the possibility of a heartbeat as evidence.

Nonetheless, Beebe also warned that the legal battle likely to follow the measure's enactment would be an added burden on the state. “The adoption of blatantly unconstitutional laws can be very costly to the taxpayers of our State,” he wrote.

Republicans largely carried the override in both chambers – where they hold majorities for the first time since Reconstruction. A simple majority was all that was required. The override gained no Democratic support in the Senate, but did see five Democratic votes in the House.

The coming legal fight will depend on how abortion rights advocates proceed with expected court challenges. But supporters of the law may relish the battle as well. Increasingly, anti-abortion advocates have set upon enacting tougher restrictions in states around the country hoping to open an opportunity to re-litigate the Supreme Court's allowance of abortion, which dates back to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.