Arkansas State Capitol, Little Rock
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A House panel advanced two measures Tuesday that would ban most abortions in Arkansas, overcoming complaints from Democrats about how one of the restrictions was initially approved by the committee.
The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee approved by an 11-5 vote legislation that would ban most abortions at 12 weeks into a pregnancy. The panel earlier approved another bill that would ban most abortions at 20 weeks.
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe has said he has constitutional concerns about both bans, but has stopped short of saying whether he'll veto either one.
The future of the 12-week ban was briefly in doubt after House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, sent the measure back to committee in response to Democratic complaints that their request for a roll call, or recorded vote, on the measure was ignored when it was first considered Tuesday morning. The panel initially backed it on a voice vote.
Democrats hold 11 of 20 seats on the committee. Two Democrats joined with the nine Republicans on the committee to support the ban.
Rep. Reginald Murdock, the panel's vice chairman, earlier accused Chairman John Burris, R-Harrison, of violating House rules by not recognizing Democrats' call for a roll call vote.
"It's politics at its best; the chairman abusing his authority," Murdock, D-Marianna, told reporters after the vote.
Carter told reporters he believed Murdock had a reasonable objection, but said he didn't believe Burris was abusing his power. Burris said he believed more than 11 members voted for the measure earlier Tuesday.
"I'm not pointing fingers either way," Carter said. "You can see it was pretty close timing."
The 12-week legislation failed to win a majority before the same committee last week after it was amended to address concerns from some lawmakers. The measure bans abortions 12 weeks into a pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is detected with exemptions for rape, incest and risk to the mother's life.
The amended ban now includes exemptions in the case of a medical emergency for the mother and lethal fetal disorders that would be left up to the state medical board to define, and removes criminal penalties for doctors who violate it.
"We believe we have struck the proper balance," said Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway. The original version of the ban Rapert proposed would have prohibited abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
The 20-week abortion ban includes exemptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, but not for any lethal fetal disorders. The proposal is based on the disputed idea that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks.
Opponents of the measure said the proposals, if enacted, would open the state up to lawsuits challenging their constitutionality and say they violate the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
Several abortion restrictions are gaining support in the Arkansas Legislature after Republicans won control of the House and Senate last year.
"I think that there is an absolute disregard for women's health, for women's status as equal human beings," Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said. "That's what this is all about."
The House is expected to vote on both bills later this week. If the House approves the 20-week ban, it heads to Beebe's desk. The 12-week ban must go back to the Senate to consider amendments if it's approved by the House.
Associated Press Writer Michael Stratford contributed to this report
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo
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