LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – The Arkansas Senate voted Thursday to override a veto of a near-ban of abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy and backed a separate measure that would only allow the procedures before the 12th week, with few exceptions.
The Republican-led Senate voted 19-14 along party lines to override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of the 20-week bill, a day after the GOP-led state House voted to override it. A simple majority was required in each chamber.
That law, which took effect immediately, is based on the contested claim that fetuses can feel pain by that point. It 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.
Minutes after overriding Beebe's veto, the Senate's voted 26-8 in support of the 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.
Beebe declined to say whether he'd veto the 12-week ban, and has until next week to decide. He 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, which 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.
"Nothing's changed from the standpoint of what I think the problem with the bill is," Beebe told reporters. "It's still the same problem it was before they overrode the veto."
Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said she was disappointed with the Senate's override and said her group is considering suing.
"We are going to do everything within our power to protect the health and reproductive decision-making abilities of women and in this case that includes looking very carefully at litigation," she said.
Democrats who previously voted for the 20-week ban but against the override said they did so out of deference to Beebe and the concerns the governor raised over the measure's constitutionality.
"The budget's tight. We're working on giving businesses and individuals some tax relief. I don't think it makes sense to spend money on expensive litigation," said Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, who is a co-chairman of the budget committee.
The near ban of abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy is based on the disputed claim that a fetus can feel pain by then and therefore deserves protection from abortion. Seven states have enacted similar 20-week restrictions based on the fetal pain argument, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks laws affecting women's health. A similar law in Arizona has been blocked while a federal appeals court reviews a lawsuit challenging it.
The Arkansas bill is based on research the bill's sponsor, Rep. Andy Mayberry, and other abortion opponents cite that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks.
"I'm confident this will hold up to constitutional and judicial scrutiny," said Mayberry, R-Hensley.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, however, says it knows of no legitimate scientific information supporting the idea that a fetus experiences pain.
The 12-week bill is based on the argument that a fetus should be protected from abortion once its heartbeat can be detected during an abdominal ultrasound. The governor has not said whether he'll veto the bill but said earlier that he has constitutional concerns with the measure.
Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, the sponsor of the 12-week ban, said Beebe should let the measure go into law without his signature.
"I respect his opinions and what he has to do as an individual, but I believe he should honor the vote of the Legislature," Rapert told reporters after the vote.
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo
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