The Arkansas Senate voted today for a bill that would ban virtually all abortions in the state. The measure would ban abortions at the point when a unborn child’s heart starts to beat.
At 22 days into pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant, unborn children complete the development of their heart to the point that a heartbeat begins and the bill would stop abortions at that point.
Some pro-life groups are not on board with the legislation, not because they oppose banning abortions but out of a concern that it will be struck down in court if passed, since the Supreme Court is currently dominated by at least a 5-4 pro-abortion majority. As a result, the legislation would be struck down in court and the ruling would add to the case law that supports Roe vs. Wade. Such groups are working to change the courts so Roe can be overturned and legislation like the Heartbeat bill or others could be approved to provide legal protection for unborn children.
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe told reporters his office is looking into those constitutional concerns.
“I’m waiting on lawyers. I think that’s the big concern right now – does it run afoul of the Supreme Court or constitutional restrictions?” Beebe said. “That’s the first thing we’re looking at.”
The Senate approved the new ban the same day that a House committee advanced two other abortion restrictions, part of a package of legislation anti-abortion groups believe are poised to become law now that Republicans control the state General Assembly.
The Senate approved the proposed “Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act” by a 26-8 vote. The measure, which now heads to a House committee, requires 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.
“I’m asking you to stand up for life, and I believe when there is a heartbeat, based upon even the standard the Supreme Court has utilized, you cannot have a viable child without a heartbeat,” Sen. Jason Rapert, the bill’s sponsor, told lawmakers before they approved the legislation.
Five Democrats joined all 21 of the Senate’s Republicans to vote for the restriction. Two Democratic lawmakers who spoke out against the bill said they believed it would be an invasion of women’s rights to make decisions about their own health if the state enacted the ban.
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A day earlier, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union told a Senate panel that the group would sue the state if it enacted the new restriction.
The bill could go before the House Public Health Committee as early as next week, but its fate is uncertain. Democrats control 11 of the 20 seats on the panel, and Republicans only hold a 51 seat majority in the 100-member House.