US & Canada

Arkansas approves strictest abortion ban in US

Arkansas governor Mike Beebe in Littlr Rock, Arkansas 15 January 2013
Image caption Governor Mike Beebe says the law violates the US Constitution

The Arkansas legislature has passed the strictest anti-abortion law in the US, defying the governor's warning it would draw the state into a court battle.

The bill, one of several anti-abortion measures enacted since Republicans won control of the state legislature in November, bans most abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy.

The legislature on Wednesday overrode Democratic Governor Mike Beebe's veto.

Abortion rights supporters plan to sue to stop the law from taking effect.

The law, called the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, bans abortions after 12 weeks, when a foetal heartbeat can generally be detected in an ultrasound scan.


The bill will take effect over the summer unless halted by a court.

"I'm just grateful that this body has continued to stand up for the bills that have passed. The eyes of the entire nation were on the Arkansas House of Representatives today," said sponsor Senator Jason Rapert after the state House overrode Gov Beebe's veto with a 56-33 vote.

The bill would not prosecute women who terminate a pregnancy, but doctors who perform the procedure could have their medical licences revoked.

The move comes days after the state legislature voted to override another veto by the governor, this time to push through an immediate ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights are preparing to file a federal lawsuit challenging the 12-week ban.

"The whole thing has not only been a slap in the face of Arkansas women but a serious bruising for the state of Arkansas and any efforts it has tried to make to present itself as a progressive, forward-thinking state where people might want to live and work," ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar told the Arkansas Times.

"It's a giant leap back in time."

Gov Beebe called the law "blatantly unconstitutional" and warned the legislature that a legal battle could be expensive, after he vetoed the measure on Monday.

The governor said the bill contradicted the landmark 1973 Supreme Court opinion in the case of Roe v Wade, which ruled abortion was legal until the foetus could survive outside the womb.

Scientists generally agree a foetus becomes viable at about 22 to 24 weeks.

Both the 12-week and 20-week laws include exemptions for rape, incest, and cases when the mother's life is in danger or the foetus is diagnosed with an extremely serious disorder.

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