House overrides 20-week abortion ban veto


LITTLE ROCK — The House voted Wednesday to override Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks.

A day after Beebe voided House Bill 1037, sponsored by Rep. Andy Mayberry (R-Hensley) saying it likely was unconstitutional, the House voted 53-28 to override his veto.

The Senate has scheduled an override vote for Thursday, when a separate abortion bill that would ban the procedure at 12 weeks also will be before the chamber for final legislative consideration.

Beebe has not said what action he would take if the second measure reached his desk, but the governor has said Senate Bill 134 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, is more questionable than Mayberry’s bill.

Overriding a gubernatorial veto takes a simple majority of both chambers in Arkansas — 51 votes in the House and 18 votes in the Senate. Mayberry’s bill passed the House 80-10 and passed the Senate 25-7.

The override passed Wednesday in almost a straight party-line vote, with just two Democrats, Reps. John Catlett of Rover and Jodi Dickinson of Newport, voting “yes” with the House’s 51 Republicans. Both had voted for the bill previously.

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, who did not vote on the bill when it was in the House previously and does not vote on most bills, voted for the override.

In his veto message Tuesday, Beebe said the bill goes against U.S. Supreme Court precedent legalizing abortions performed before fetal viability, or the point at which a fetus can live outside the womb, usually 23-24 weeks.

The governor also referred to the cost to the state of defending a constitutionally suspect law against litigation.

HB 1037 would ban abortions at 20 weeks, the point at which the bill claims a fetus is capable of feeling pain. It includes exceptions for rape, incest and pregnancies that endanger the mother’s life or could cause irreversible physical impairment.

Speaking on the House floor Wednesday, Mayberry called HB1037 “a bill that saves baby’s lives.”

“These are babies who are capable of feeling pain. The methods used to abort those pregnancies are excruciatingly painful,” he said.

Mayberry argued that the bill is constitutional, noting that a federal judge in Arizona has upheld a similar law. That ruling is being appealed.

“We’re not passing bad law here. We’re passing good law,” Mayberry said.

Rep. Randy Alexander, R-Fayetteville, spoke in support of the override, urging members to resist pressure from the governor to let his override stand.

“I have a very difficult time understanding how someone could vote for a bill like this one week and against it the next, I don’t care who’s leaning on you,” he said.

No one spoke against the override.

Mayberry told reporters later that he decided to take the earliest possible opportunity to request an override after talking to members and getting “some warning signals that it … might be extremely close.” He said he did some quick leg work and learned that he had enough votes for an override.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Wednesday that the governor “made the best case that he could on the legal concerns with the bill and what he thinks will happen if it becomes law, but the Legislature gets the final say.”

Carter told reporters that although he had not voted for the bill previously, he supported it. He said the bill was supported by a vast majority of House members, but the vote on overriding the veto was “obviously a pretty close vote.”

A lawyer, Carter said he respects the governor but disagrees with his constitutional concerns.

“We’ve got a federal district court in Arizona that has opined that (similar) legislation is constitutional,” he said.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ACLU is preparing for litigation to challenge the law.

“If this bill becomes law, women’s lives and well-being will be in danger, that could have been prevented today. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t,” she said.

Earlier Wednesday in a 5-2 vote, the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee endorsed a House amendment to SB 134 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway.

The bill would require a woman seeking an abortion at 12 weeks of gestation or later to undergo an abdominal ultrasound to check for a fetal heartbeat, and it would prohibit an abortion if a heartbeat is detected.

The amendment removed a provision that would have authorized a felony charge against a doctor that violated the law and replaced it with loss of the doctor’s medical license. It also adds an exception in the case of a fetal anomaly that would not allow the child to live after birth.

Rapert said he spoke with Beebe about the governor’s concerns about the bill.

“The governor has his own conscience,” he said. “I think probably the best route would be that he just simply not sign the bill and let it become law, if that’s what he decides to do. If he doesn’t, then we’ll override the veto and it’ll become law in the state of Arkansas.”