The Arkansas House of Representatives voted 56-33 on Wednesday to override Gov. Mike Beebe's (D) veto of a ban on abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, ensuring that the most restrictive abortion law in the country will now go into effect.
Under the new law, proposed by state Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway), doctors who perform abortions on a woman who is more than 12 weeks pregnant will lose their medical licenses unless the woman is a victim of rape or incest, her life is in danger or the fetus has a highly lethal abnormality. Republican supporters of the bill argue that abortion should be banned that early in a pregnancy because the fetal heartbeat can be detected at that point.
Several states, including Arkansas, have passed bans on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the medically unsubstantiated theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point. But Arkansas is the first state to pass a 12-week ban.
Beebe said he vetoed the bill on Monday because it violates the precedent set by the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which protects women's constitutional right to have an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb (usually around 24 weeks).
"In short, 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," Beebe said in a statement. "When I was sworn in as governor I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. I take that oath seriously."
The Arkansas state legislature, which flipped to Republican control in the 2012 elections, requires a simple majority to override a veto. Legislators overrode Beebe's veto of a 20-week abortion ban last week.
The American Civil Liberties Union pledged on Wednesday to fight the new law in court.
“The Arkansas legislature has the shameful distinction of passing the worst impediment to women’s reproductive health in decades,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The decision to have an abortion is a complex and deeply personal one that must be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor -- not politicians. The ACLU will challenge this dangerous and unconstitutional law in court to put this private decision back in the hands of a woman and her family.”