LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas House voted 53-28 Tuesday to override Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of a bill that would outlaw most abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy, hours after a state Senate committee approved a package of even tighter abortion restrictions.
The Republican-controlled state Senate, which overwhelmingly backed the 20-week near-ban on abortions before Beebe, a Democrat, vetoed it, was expected to discuss whether to vote to override the veto Thursday. Like the GOP-led House, only a simple majority in the Senate is needed to override a veto.
The House-sponsored measure is based on the disputed argument that a fetus can feel pain by the 20th week of pregnancy, and thus deserves protection from abortion. Beebe vetoed the bill Tuesday, saying it contradicts the U.S. Supreme Court's 1976 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion until a fetus can viably survive outside of the womb, which is typically at 22 to 24 weeks.
"This is not just any regular bill. It's one that has an eternal impact on each of us and to those children," Republican Rep. Andy Mayberry told House members as he urged them to override.
Two of the House's 48 Democrats joined with all 51 GOP members to support overriding Beebe's veto. Eighteen Democrats and the chamber's only Green Party member did not vote on the override, which has the same effect as voting against it. Republicans hold 21 of the 35 seats in the Senate, which approved Mayberry's bill on a 25-7 vote last week.
Prior to the House vote, the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee voted 5-2 to advance a bill that would ban most abortions starting in the 12th week of pregnancy, sending it to the full Senate. The Senate passed an earlier version of the bill that would have outlawed abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, but amended it to push back the restriction and to add more exemptions.
Beebe declined to say Wednesday whether he would also veto the Senate's proposed 12-week ban, but he said he thinks it's on even shakier legal ground than the House's 20-week version.
"I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to do on a bill that's even more problematic than the one I already vetoed, but I won't tell you officially until that time," Beebe said Tuesday.
Seven states have enacted similar 20-week restrictions based on the fetal pain argument, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks laws affecting women's health. A similar law in Arizona has been blocked while a federal appeals court reviews a lawsuit challenging it.
John DiPippa, dean emeritus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's law school, said he agrees with Beebe that the ban is unconstitutional and will likely be decided by the courts. He said he thinks the fetal pain argument will lose in the lower courts but that it's unclear how it might fare if it were to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The core holding of Roe is that a state cannot place an obstacle in the way of a woman who wants to abort before viability," DiPippa said. "If you apply that standard, then these bills that draw the line at 20 weeks - which by all medical estimates is prior to viability - would clearly set up a substantial obstacle to a woman's ability to before that age."
GOP Sen. Jason Rapert said he hopes Beebe lets it stand but said he was confident the 12-week ban would have enough support to override a veto.
"The governor has his own conscience," Rapert, R-Conway, told reporters. "I think probably the best route would be that he just simply not sign the bill and let it become law, if that's what he decides to do. If he doesn't, then we'll override the veto and it'll become law in the state of Arkansas."
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