Arkansas has now passed the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. With a 56-33 vote Wednesday, the Arkansas House of Representatives quashed a veto by Governor Mike Beebe (D) of a ban on abortions after 12 weeks. While several states have passed a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, Arkansas is the first state to restrict the ban even further.
Gov. Beebe vetoed the bill on Monday, after having vetoed another last week that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Beebe said he vetoed both bills because they violate the precedent set by the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which protects a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion until such time as the fetus is viable outside of the womb, defined as approximately 7 months (28 weeks).
When asked about his decision to veto the bill, Beebe responded, “In short, 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.” Both of the Governor’s vetoes were overridden by the Arkansas House, which switched to a Republican majority last year.
The new law, proposed by Sen. Jason Rapert (R), dictates that if a doctor provides an abortion to a woman over 12 weeks pregnant, that doctor can lose his/her medical license, except in extreme cases such as rape, incest, when the life of the mother is at risk, or lethal fetal disorders.
Arkansas and other states, including Georgia and Minnesota, require doctors to tell women that a 20-week-old fetus can feel pain, and, in fact, the several states that have passed bans on abortion over 20 weeks base their decisions on this unsubstantiated notion. In 2005, a review of scientific evidence by a team of colleagues at the University of California at San Francisco found that claim to be inaccurate.
According to Mark Rosen, an obstetrical anesthesiologist at the University, “Fetuses cannot feel pain until at least the 28th week of gestation because they haven’t formed the necessary nerve pathways.” Rosen also said the use of fetal anesthesia is unjustified during abortion and “puts the mother at increased risk of adverse reactions, and even death.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spoke out against the legislation on Wednesday, saying they intend to fight the new law in court. Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said “The Arkansas legislature has the shameful distinction of passing the worst impediment to women’s reproductive health in decades.” He added, “The decision to have an abortion is a complex and deeply personal one that must be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor – not politicians. The ACLU will challenge this dangerous and unconstitutional law in court to put this private decision back in the hands of a woman and her family.”
Alisha Mims is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.