The Arkansas House on Wednesday voted to override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of a bill that would ban most abortions from the 12th week of pregnancy onward, giving the state the country's most restrictive abortion laws and setting the stage for a certain court challenge.
A day after the Republican-led state Senate voted to override Beebe's veto, the GOP-controlled House voted 56-33 to do the same. Only a simple majority was needed in each chamber.
The vote comes less than a week after the Legislature voted to override the governor's veto of a separate bill banning most abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy. That bill took effect immediately after the final override vote, whereas the 12-week ban wouldn't take effect until this summer.
Abortion rights proponents have already said they'll sue to block the 12-week ban from taking effect. Beebe warned lawmakers that both measures are likely to fail in court and that the state would end up wasting money defending them if they became law.
Beebe rejected both measures for the same reasons, saying they were unconstitutional and contradicted the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion until a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. A fetus is generally considered viable at 22 to 24 weeks.
The 12-week ban would prohibit abortions from the point when a fetus' heartbeat can typically be detected using an abdominal ultrasound. It includes exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders. The 20-week prohibition, which is based on the disputed claim that a fetus can feel pain by the 20th week and therefore deserves protection from abortion, includes all of the same exemptions except for fetal disorders.
The measure is among several abortion restrictions lawmakers have backed since Republicans won control of the House and Senate in the November election. Republicans hold 21 of the 35 Senate seats, and 51 of the 100 seats in the House. It takes a simple majority in both chambers to override.
Beebe has signed into law one of those measures, a prohibition on most abortion coverage by insurers participating in the exchange created under the health care law.
Unlike the 20-week ban, which took effect immediately, the 12-week restriction won't take effect until 90 days after the House and Senate adjourn. Lawmakers aren't expected to wrap up this year's session until later this month or April.
In vetoing both measures, Beebe has cited the costs to the state if it has to defend either ban in court. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has vowed to sue if the state enacts the 12-week ban and the group said it was considering legal action over the 20-week restriction as well.
Beebe noted that the state paid nearly $148,000 to attorneys for plaintiffs who successfully challenged a 1997 late-term abortion ban.
The original version of Rapert's bill would have banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, but he changed the measure after facing resistance from some lawmakers worried that it would require an invasive procedure.
Women who have abortions would not face prosecution under Rapert's bill, but doctors who perform abortions in violation of the 12-week ban could have their medical licenses revoked.