Published March 11, 2013
Arkansas has become ground zero in the battle over abortion rights and limitations in the country.
Just last week, lawmakers overrode Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of a law that will ban most abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. Under the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, which is scheduled to go into effect later this summer, women seeking an abortion who are at least 12 weeks pregnant will be required to undergo an ultrasound. If a heartbeat is detected, the abortion would not be permitted.
The law includes jail time and fines for doctors who violate the law but no penalties for women who seek or undergo an illegal abortion.
State Sen. Jason Rapert, the Republican who authored the law, says he thinks lawmakers struck the right balance. He notes the measure includes exceptions for "rape, incest, to save the life of the mother and to prevent irreparable harm to the mother's health, in addition to giving an exception for fatal fetal anomalies."
In deciding to veto the legislation, Beebe cited concerns over the constitutionality of the law, as well as the cost of defending it. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, notes that Arkansas is not alone on that front.
"There are so many battles in so many states that are very similar that I think the bulk of the law will, without question, make itself up to the [Supreme] Court," Dannenfelser said.
Pro-choice groups, citing Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court precedents, feel confident it's a fight they will win.
"The bill is clearly unconstitutional, clearly inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent," Louise Melling, the American Civil Liberties Union's deputy legal director, said. ACLU officials said they are planning to jointly file a legal challenge with the Center for Reproductive Rights before the Arkansas law is set to go into effect.
While the so-called "Heartbeat Law" is hashed out in court, Rapert also says he plans to introduce a measure that would ban state officials from allowing any state or federal funds from flowing to organizations that perform abortions, namely Planned Parenthood.
If he succeeds, Arkansas would join a number of other states that have blocked funding to the family planning organization, including Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.