Arkansas House Overrides Governor's Veto Of Strict Abortion Bill

The Arkansas House of Representatives voted to override their governor's veto of a strict abortion bill on Tuesday.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. Today in Arkansas, the country's most restricted ban on abortion survived a veto challenge. The Arkansas House voted to override the Governor's veto. The new law bans most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. NPR's Kathy Lohr has this story.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: The bill called the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act is set to become law now that the House has overridden the governor's veto. They needed just a simple majority.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE ANN CLEMMER: Arkansas law declares a 12-week-old baby in utero a person. And this bill only restricts abortions, elective abortions, after the 12th week.

LOHR: That's the House sponsor, Republican Representative Ann Clemmer, speaking just before the 56 to 33 vote. She says the state's unborn victims of violence law already defines when life begins, and Clemmen(ph) says this extends that idea to abortion.

CLEMMER: So if a woman is attacked and in the attack loses her child, the attacker can be charged with manslaughter, negligent homicide or murder. We already draw a line there at 12 weeks saying that this is a person.

LOHR: Arkansas recently passed a 20-week abortion ban, but Clemmer says the 12-week version will have a greater impact. Democratic Governor Mike Beebe vetoed both laws, but the Republican-controlled legislature overrode both vetoes. In a statement, the Governor said taxpayers will waste money defending the laws, which he says blatantly violate the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said states can only ban abortion after the fetus can survive outside the womb. Talcott Camp is with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

TALCOTT CAMP: This seeks to take away this personal, private, terribly important medical decision that really must rest as a constitutional and moral matter with a woman and her family and her doctor. This is just a gross intrusion by politicians into people's lives and people's doctor's offices. It is outrageous.

LOHR: Abortion rights activists say the law ignores 40 years of Supreme Court precedent. Under the law, doctors who perform abortions after 12 weeks would have their license revoked, except in cases of rape, incest to save the life of the mother and some fetal conditions. Camp says the ACLU will file suit to block the measure which is set to go into effect this summer.

The number of states enacting bills to ban abortion earlier in pregnancy has increased since 2010, according to Elizabeth Nash with the Guttmacher Institute. That's when Nebraska passed the first 20-week ban.

ELIZABETH NASH: And that bill really kicked off this whole series of states trying to ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization and then last year, Arizona tried to do it at 18 weeks post-fertilization. So we're really seeing this race to the bottom, in a sense, where legislators are very hesitant to ban abortion entirely but are willing to ban abortion at earlier and earlier points in pregnancy.

LOHR: Nash says the bill will affect more than 10 percent of the abortions performed in the state. The House sponsor, Arkansas Representative Clemmer, says she voted her conscience, and she says the courts will determine whether the law is valid.

CLEMMER: The job of the legislature is to make laws. And if someone doesn't like the law that's passed, then it can be challenged.

LOHR: No other state has considered a bill to ban abortions at 12 weeks, but 10 states have enacted 20-week bans and half a dozen are considering measures that would outlaw abortions at six weeks. Kathy Lohr, NPR News.

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