After Republicans won big gains in the Arkansas legislature in the 2012 elections, they’ve wasted no time pushing their anti-abortion agenda in the state. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) has already signed one new abortion restriction into law already, and he hasn’t specifically confirmed whether or not he’ll sign the other proposed anti-choice legislation in the works — including a radical “fetal heartbeat” bill that would ban abortions as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy.
But as RH Reality Check points out, the heartbeat bill could pass regardless of whether Beebe decides to support it. Under Arkansas law, a simple majority in the legislature can override the governor’s veto — so even if Beebe correctly concludes that the legislation is unconstitutional, the state senators who support the bill could vote again to override him. And, assuming that all of the legislators who have already voted in favor of the bill don’t change their minds, there are enough of them to assure its passage into law.
And the bill’s sponsor, Arkansas Sen. Jason Rapert (R), is already hard at work making the legislation more palpable for his fellow lawmakers. After women’s health advocates pointed out that Rapert’s original bill would mandate invasive probes for all women seeking abortions — since a transvaginal ultrasound is the only way to detect a fetal heartbeat in the first trimester of pregnancy — Rapert pushed back the cut-off to ban abortions after the point when a heartbeat can be detected with an abdominal ultrasound, usually around 12 weeks. The GOP lawmaker is also working to remove criminal penalties for the abortion doctors who perform the procedure after 12 weeks, and include additional exemptions in cases when women discover fetal abnormalities.
Rapert hopes those changes will sufficiently appease his party. “We feel like that we definitely now have a bill that has even broader support than it did a few weeks ago when it came out of the Senate,” he said on Tuesday. But regardless of Rapert’s edits to his heartbeat bill, it still represents the most stringent abortion ban in the nation, going far past the 20-week abortion bans that currently have that distinction. Thanks to Arkansas’ legislative process, however, not even the governor may be able to stop it at this point.
Arkansas isn’t the only state where anti-choice lawmakers could push abortion restrictions past the governor. The legislatures in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee may also override vetoes with a simple majority vote.