(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would ban abortions in Arkansas at 20 weeks, unless a woman is a victim of rape, incest or her life is at risk due to a medical emergency.
Members of the Arkansas House and Senate voted in favor of HB 1037 that would ban abortions at 20 weeks – the time in which a pre-born baby can feel pain.
In his veto letter, Beebe cited the Supreme Court precedent Roe v. Wade and the legal costs the state would incur, as the primary reasons behind his decision to veto HB 1037, "An act to create the pain-capable unborn child protection act and to declare an emergency."
Beebe said he vetoed the bill "…because it would impose a ban on a woman's right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion before viability. House Bill 1037, if it became law, would squarely contradict Supreme Court precedent."
He continued: "In the last case in which the constitutionality of an Arkansas abortion statute was challenged, Little Rock Family Planning Services v. Jegley (1999), the state was ordered to pay the prevailing plaintiffs and their attorneys nearly $119,000 for work in the trial court, and an additional $28,900 for work on the state's unsuccessful appeal."
Beebe noted his concern that litigation costs would be significantly higher for the state today, than in 1999, if HB 1037 becomes law. "It has been suggested that outside groups or others might represent the state for free in any litigation challenging the constitutionality of House Bill 1037, but even if that were to happen, that would only lessen the state's own litigation costs," said Beebe.
"Lawsuits challenging unconstitutional laws also result in the losing party – in this case, the state – having to pay the costs and attorneys' fees incurred by the litigants who successfully challenge the law," said Beebe, who added that he took an oath to preserve, protect and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States.
The bill has strong support in both chambers of the Arkansas legislature, and members can override the governor's veto by a simple majority (51 votes in the House and 18 votes in the Senate). Republicans have a slight majority in the House, holding 51 of the 100 seats, and in the Senate, where they hold 21 of the 35 seats.
On Feb. 4, the House voted 75 to 20 in favor of the bill, which then moved to the Senate and passed with one amendment added, by a vote of 25 to 7. It then went back to the House for a final vote to adopt the Senate amendment, and passed by a vote of 80 to 10 on Feb. 21.
Planned Parenthood refers its Arkansas patients seeking late-term abortions to the Little Rock Family Planning Clinic in Little Rock, Ark., which told The Christian Post that it perform abortions up to 21 weeks, but not past 21 weeks.
On the Friday before Beebe vetoed HB 1037, he met with Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), who pro-life groups accuse of protecting the Planned Parenthood Kansas and Mid-Missouri clinic that faced 107 misdemeanor and felony charges for violating the state's abortion laws. All charges against Planned Parenthood were later dropped.