The Arkansas House of Representatives voted Wednesday to override the governor's veto and ban abortions for women who are 12 weeks or greater into their pregnancies, thus passing the most restrictive law of its kind in the nation.
The House voted 56-33 to override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's veto on the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act on Wednesday, just a day after the Senate voted to do so by a tally of 20-14. Only a simple majority was needed in each legislative chamber to override the veto.
The law requires abortion doctors to test for a fetal heartbeat before going through with the procedure. If a heartbeat is detectable and the woman has reached the 12-week gestation mark, an abortion cannot be performed.
Women faced with medical emergencies, including those at risk of death or "irreversible impairment of a major bodily function" because of their pregnancies, and those who became pregnant through rape or incest, however, are exempt from the rule.
"I'm just grateful that this body has continued to stand up for the bills that have passed," state Republican Sen. Jason Rapert said Wednesday, according to Fox News. "The eyes of the entire nation were on the Arkansas House of Representatives today."
Rapert, SB 134's sponsor, also said via Twitter on Thursday that he has arranged pro bono legal representation to defend against any legal challenges to the law.
In the governor's veto letter, Beebe said the bill "blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court," and could prove to be costly even if free legal representation is utilized by the state. Arkansas would have to pay attorney fees and other costs if it were to lose a court challenge, he said, suggesting those fees could be in the six-figures based on a similar case from the late 1990s.
"The adoption of blatantly unconstitutional laws can be very costly to the taxpayers of our State," wrote Beebe. "It has been suggested that outside groups might represent the State for free in any litigation challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 134, but even if that were to happen, that would only lessen the State's own litigation costs."
The ACLU of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights have already said they will challenge the new law in federal court.
"Some politicians just don't get it, and a majority of Arkansas lawmakers really don't get it," Elissa Berger, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, wrote in a blog post. "The decision to have an abortion is a complex and deeply personal one that must be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor – not politicians. A politician's job is not to intrude, but to respect the decision she makes."
Jerry Cox, executive director of the Little Rock-based Family Council, says his organization helped craft the ideas in the bill so that it would limit abortions but lawmakers would feel comfortable voting for it. Family Council also used email and social media to encourage others to tell legislators and the governor to support the bill.
"What this bill does is it provides an opportunity for us, all of us, to create a culture of life rather than a culture of death," Cox told The Christian Post on Thursday. "And that's extremely important, because as a person who believes in God, as a Christian, I believe that God is all about life. So the more that we can create a culture that honors life, that affirms the sanctity of human life, then the better off we all are in all sectors of life."