On Wednesday afternoon, despite Governor Mike Beebe's best intentions, the Arkansas House and Senate passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country — indeed, perhaps the greatest legal challenge to Roe v. Wade in its 40 years of existence. But abortion rights groups were waiting right outside the Capitol in Little Rock, ready with promises of an instant lawsuit.
Beebe vetoed proposed legislation on Monday that would ban abortions in the state at 12 weeks into pregnancy. But the House overrode Beebe's veto by a 56-33 margin on Wednesday, something it has the right do if they can gather a simple majority. The state Senate voted 20 to 14 in favor on Tuesday. Under decades worth of U.S. law as established by Roe, women have a constitutionally protected right to abortion services until a medically accepted point of viability, usually considered to be about 24 weeks. That's not just a discrepancy between a landmark Supreme Court decision and the law of one land — that's three months' worth of discrepancy. And that's not going to hold up.
Specifically, Arkansas' "Human Heartbeat Protection Act" bans abortion procedures after 12 weeks if a fetal heartbeat can be detected by an abdominal ultrasound. Senator Jason Rapert, the bill's outspoken sponsor in the House — he compared abortions to the Holocaust — originally wanted the ban to start at six weeks. But Rapert (pictured at left) realized that would require a vaginal ultrasound and would draw ire similar to Virginia's mandatory vaginal ultrasound law. And still, at 12 weeks it is the shortest term in the United States, effectively banning abortions in the first trimester, and Rapert seemed to know full well the implications. "The eyes of this nation [have] been on the Arkansas House of Representatives today. And the eyes of this nation [have] seen that people are ready for change. I've heard from them," Rapert said, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Again, if there's a heartbeat, there's life and we're going to stand up for this law, regardless of who opposes it."