The ACLU has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the strongest pro-life law on the books in the nation. The measure bans abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy, though it won’t take effect until this summer and will probably be stopped in court now that the pro-abortion legal group has filed suit.
The Republican House voted 56-33 in March to override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who vetoed the bill, after the state Senate voted to do the same thing. The bill arrived on Beebe’s desk after clearing the Senate, 26-8, and the House, 68-20.
The law 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.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas is behind the lawsuit, seeking a request to stop the abortion ban while the case continues in court. Because it contravenes Roe v. Wade, lower courts are expected to issue an injunction preventing the abortion ban from taking effect while the lawsuit moves ahead.
The lawsuit is filed on behalf of two Little Rock-based abortion practitioners, Dr. Louis Jerry Edwards and Dr. Tom Tvedten, against the state medical board.
The lawsuit claims Edwards and Tvedten could lose their licenses for providing abortions starting at the 12th week of pregnancy, meaning the law denies “patients their constitutionally-guaranteed right to decide to end a previability pregnancy.”
“We are asking the court to block an attempt to essentially outlaw all abortions past 12 weeks, so early that a woman might not know the complete health and status of her pregnancy,” Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Rose Mimms, the executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, said groups like hers are hopeful that laws restricting abortions will land again before the U.S. Supreme Court and be considered against new discoveries regarding fetal development.
“They didn’t have that kind of information when they decided Roe v. Wade,” Mimms said.
Sklar called the bill “one of the most dangerous assaults on women’s health that we’ve seen in decades.” She said all sides of the debate may not be able to agree on the issue, ” but we can all agree that this complex and personal decision should be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor, not politicians,” she said in a statement.
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When he vetoed the bill, the governor expected the lawsuit.
“Because it would impose a ban on a woman’s right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion well before viability, Senate Bill 134 blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court,” Beebe said in a letter vetoing the bill. “When I was sworn in as governor I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. I take that oath seriously.”
Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow is the bill sponsor and he was upset Gov. Beebe said costs to fight the expected court battle led to the veto.
Rapert said he told Beebe, “I have given you an opportunity to save thousands of lives in the future of this state … and you have stated that you would sign a bill to do away with the death penalty in the state of Arkansas for convicted murderers. I believe the same place in your heart in which you would find yourself able to do that should be the same place in your heart that you should be able to protect the lives of unborn innocent children.”
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.
Before vetoing the bill, Beebe told reporters his office was 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.”
“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.
Previously the Legislature overrode Beebe’s veto of a ban on most abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy. That law took effect immediately, but the Heartbeat abortion ban likely won’t stand up in court.