Arkansas lawmakers have voted to override Gov. Mike Beebe’s (D) veto of a 12-week abortion ban, ensuring that the legislation will go into effect this spring. SB 134 represents the worst abortion restriction in the nation — cutting off women’s access to legal abortion services well before the point of viability, which is typically around 24 weeks of pregnancy — and it is the first “fetal heartbeat” abortion measure to go into law. Here’s everything you need to know about this egregious attack on Arkansas’ women’s reproductive rights:
1. The governor vetoed it because it is unconstitutional. Earlier this week, Beebe vetoed the bill because, as he explained, banning abortion at 12 weeks “blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution.” Under Roe v. Wade, women have a constitutionally protected right to legal abortion services until the medically accepted point of viability. But under Arkansas law, legislatures can override their governor’s vetoes with a simple majority vote in each chamber, and that’s what happened this week.
2. This isn’t the first stringent abortion ban that Arkansas Republicans have forced past the governor. Just last week, lawmakers voted to override Beebe’s veto of a 20-week “fetal pain” abortion ban, ensuring the measure would immediately become law. Beebe also rejected that legislation over concerns about undermining Roe v. Wade, and the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue if it went into effect. But that wasn’t enough to stop Arkansas Republicans — and that wasn’t enough to stop them from pushing for an even stricter 12-week abortion ban to supersede the 20-week ban, either.
3. “Fetal heartbeat” bans aren’t rooted in any scientific logic. “When there is a heartbeat there, you have a living human being,” the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Jason Rapert (R), told the Associated Press to justify his support for the policy. But there’s no reason to ban abortion procedures after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Heartbeat measures are simply a dangerous attempt to redefine the medical terms of pregnancy and roll back women’s right to abortion on a state level.
4. Arkansas is now home to the worst abortion ban in the country. Radical heartbeat bills popped up in states around the country at the beginning of this legislative session, but Arkansas and North Dakota are the only states to successfully advance heartbeat measures — and Arkansas is the very first state to actually enact one into law. The original version of the bill sought to ban abortions after just six weeks, and Rapert ended up amending it after a massive outcry. But pushing back the deadline by six weeks is hardly an improvement. Banning abortion services at just 12 weeks still goes much further than the 20-week bans abortion bans on the books in seven other states, making Arkansas’ law the strictest in the nation.
5. Republicans are fully aware they’re inviting a host of legal challenges. Several advocacy groups, including the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights, have already threatened legal action against Arkansas if the state moves forward with the heartbeat measure. When the governor vetoed both the 20-week and 12-week abortion bans, he indicated he would rather avoid the court battles those measures would bring — particularly since two other states are currently engaged in legal fights over their own 20-week bans. But Arkansas Republicans, who won back both chambers of the legislature in the 2012 election, have been so eager to advance their anti-abortion agenda that they simply don’t care.