Senate overrides 12-week abortion ban veto


LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted Tuesday to override Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of a bill to ban most abortions in the state after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Without discussion, the Senate voted 20-14 to void Beebe’s veto Monday of Senate Bill 134, which the governor said “would blatantly violate the United States Constitution” if it becomes law.

The House is expected to consider an override Wednesday.

The Senate action was hardly a surprise since both chambers last week overrode Beebe’s veto of legislation banning most abortions after 20 weeks. The governor also said that measure is constitutionally suspect.

Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, sponsor of SB 134, told reporters Tuesday he was “very pleased” with the vote on his bill.

“We’re headed to the House and very confident, hopeful, that we have passage there,” Rapert said.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Tuesday the governor “did what he had to do because of the laws and the Constitution, but the Legislature has the final say.”

The bill would prohibit a woman from having an abortion 12 weeks or later into a pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is detected using an abdominal ultrasound, a test that would be mandatory for a woman seeking an abortion that far into a pregnancy.

The measure includes exceptions in cases of rape, incest, medical emergencies or fetal anomalies that would not allow the child to live after birth.

A violation of the measure would cost a doctor his or her medical license.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that states cannot prohibit abortions before a fetus becomes viable, or able to live outside the womb. Doctors generally consider, and case law establishes, a fetus to be viable at between 23 and 24 weeks.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said it would challenge the measure and the governor warned lawmakers that a legal challenge, should the bill become law, could be costly.

Rapert said Tuesday that Beebe’s argument that his bill would violate the Constitution was “not valid,” adding that “the U.S. Constitution says nothing whatsoever about abortion. This is governed by case law.”

In his veto letter Monday, Beebe cited case law, including the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, in which the nation’s highest court held that women have a right under the Constitution to choose to terminate their pregnancies, and that the Constitution places restraints on government’s ability to prohibit or regulate the exercise of that right.

Last week, the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode the governor’s veto of House Bill 1037, which outlaws most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. That bill is now Act 171.

All 14 Democrats in the Senate voted against Tuesday’s override of SB 134. Several, including Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, said they support pro-life legislation but opposed the override because of the constitutional concerns raised by the governor and the potential for costly litigation.