LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Arkansas joined seven other U.S. states on Thursday in banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy as the Republican-controlled state Senate voted to override a veto of the legislation by Democratic Governor Mike Beebe.
Arkansas senators also gave final approval to a proposal that would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat could be detected by a standard ultrasound, or about 12 weeks into pregnancy, and forwarded that bill to Beebe.
Senators voted 19 to 14 along party lines to override Beebe’s veto of the 20-week ban, which followed a 53 to 28 vote by the Republican-controlled state House. In Arkansas, lawmakers can override a veto by a simple majority vote.
The law to ban most abortions after 20 weeks provides exceptions only in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother’s life. It does not include an exemption for any lethal fetal disorders.
The heartbeat bill includes similar exceptions and calls for the state medical board to revoke the licenses of doctors who violate it.
The ACLU of Arkansas believes the new 20-week ban law and the proposed fetal heartbeat bill are unconstitutional, said Bettina Brownstein, cooperating attorney for the organization.
Brownstein said the ACLU may challenge the 20-week ban law and was preparing a challenge to the heartbeat bill.
“If it becomes law, it will be the most draconian anti-abortion bill in the country and affect many, many women,” Brownstein said of the heartbeat bill.
Republican state Representative Andy Mayberry, the primary sponsor, said the 20-week ban law was modeled after a similar law in Nebraska and he believes it is constitutional.
“Maybe there will be lawsuits, but lawmakers don’t always let the criticisms of their opponents influence their votes,” Republican state Senator David Sanders said on Thursday of the rare vote to override the governor’s veto.
The chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Jill June, said the so-called “heartbeat” bill would be the most stringent restriction on abortion in the country.
Governor Beebe had said he vetoed the 20-week ban because he believed it contradicted the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe versus Wade decision that legalized abortion, and it would be costly to defend the law from legal challenges.
Late-term abortions remain relatively rare. Most of the recent state laws banning most abortions after 20 weeks are based on controversial medical research suggesting that a fetus feels pain starting at 20 weeks of gestation.
Editing by David Bailey, Greg McCune and Leslie Adler