LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected under a bill introduced by a Republican senator Monday, a proposal that would prohibit the medical procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
Sen. Jason Rapert filed legislation that would require a test to detect a fetal heartbeat before an abortion is performed. If one is detected, a woman could not have an abortion, except in cases of rape, incest and if a mother's life is in danger.
Rapert, R-Conway, said he may bring the legislation before the Senate Public Health Committee as early as this week. Eighteen of the Senate's 35 members have signed onto his proposal as co-sponsors.
"When there is a heartbeat there, you have a living human being," Rapert said. "I believe in this nation we need to take a stand for life."
Similar proposals have come up in other states, but have faced complaints that it would run afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
Rapert said he believed his legislation could withstand a legal challenge. Under Rapert's bill, anyone who performs an abortion could face a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine up to $10,000, if they violate the restriction. The woman seeking an abortion can't be charged under his bill.
Officials with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland criticized the measure as "extreme" and said the group would oppose the legislation.
"There are many possible outcomes of pregnancy, including fetal development issues that cannot be detected in the first six weeks," said Murry Newbern, a lobbyist and policy analyst for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. "Complications during pregnancy could put a woman's life in danger and this bill would leave her without legal medical options to save her life."
The measure is among several aimed at restricting abortions that Republicans are expected to push for after winning control of the House and Senate in last year's election. The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee planned to consider legislation Thursday that would ban abortions at 20 weeks.
State legislators are also considering legislation that would prevent most abortions from being covered through the health insurance exchange that would be created under the federal health care law.
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo
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