Senate panel OKs bill to ban abortion if fetal heartbeat detected

LITTLE ROCK — A bill that would prohibit an abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected cleared a Senate committee Wednesday.

The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee endorsed Senate Bill 134 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, which advances to the Senate. The measure passed in a voice vote with at least two “no” votes heard on the eight-member panel.

Titled the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, the bill would require a test for a fetal heartbeat before an abortion could be performed and would prohibit the abortion if a heartbeat is detected, unless the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Rapert testified that a fetal heartbeat can sometimes be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. He said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey that states have the ability to protect life at the point of viability.

“It is a settled fact that you cannot have viability without the presence of a fetal heartbeat,” he said.

Bettina Brownstein, an attorney for the Arkansas Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, testified against the bill. She told the panel that “viability” means a fetus would be able to survive outside the womb and said a 6-week-old fetus is not able to survive outside the womb.

“If this passes, you might as well write a check to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood, because we will feel the necessity to go to court to protect the rights of women. … I can guarantee that if passed into law it will be overturned, and it will be expensive for the state of Arkansas,” Brownstein said.

The bill appears likely to fare well in the Republican-controlled Senate. From there it will go to the House Public Health Committee, which is composed of 11 Democrats and nine Republicans.

Rapert told reporters he has secured commitments from a majority of members of the House committee and is confident his bill will clear the panel.