Arkansas bans abortion at 12 weeks, earliest in nation

LITTLE ROCK, Ark Wed Mar 6, 2013 5:49pm EST

Arkansas governor Mike Beebe looks on during a Martin Luther King Jr. service in Little Rock, Arkansas in this January 15, 2013 Governor's office handout photo obtained by Reuters March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Arkansas Governor's Office/Handout

Arkansas governor Mike Beebe looks on during a Martin Luther King Jr. service in Little Rock, Arkansas in this January 15, 2013 Governor's office handout photo obtained by Reuters March 6, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Arkansas Governor's Office/Handout

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - The nation's most restrictive abortion law is set to take effect in Arkansas later this year, after the state's House of Representatives on Wednesday overrode Governor Mike Beebe's veto of legislation mostly banning the procedure after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The Republican-controlled House voted 56-33 to override the veto by Democrat Beebe, which followed the state Senate's override on Tuesday. In Arkansas, lawmakers can override a veto with a simple majority vote.

The law, the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, will go into effect 90 days after the formal adjournment of the legislative session, scheduled for May 17.

Arkansas will have the earliest abortion ban in the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

The measure prohibits most abortions at about 12 weeks of pregnancy, once a fetal heartbeat can be detected by a standard ultrasound. It includes exemptions for rape, incest, danger to the life of the mother and major fetal conditions. Doctors who violate the prohibition would have their licenses revoked by the state medical board.

Battles over abortion in the United States have largely shifted from the federal courts to statehouses.

States in 2011 passed a record-breaking number of new abortion restrictions, 92, and in 2012 passed the second-highest number, 43, according to Guttmacher.

This year, for example, the Indiana Senate passed a bill that would make the state the ninth to require an ultrasound prior to an abortion.

In Arkansas, the fetal heartbeat bill was one of one of several bills introduced by Republicans this year seeking to restrict abortion. This is the first time the party has controlled both chambers since the Reconstruction era following the Civil War.

Beebe said in his veto letter the heartbeat bill "blatantly contradicts" the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court, and he questioned the potential cost to taxpayers of defending it against legal challenges.

The ACLU of Arkansas was expected to challenge the 12-week ban in court.

(Reporting by Suzi Parker; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Gary Hill, Leslie Adler and Steve Orlofky)

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