Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe on Monday vetoed what would have been the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation, telling lawmakers that outlawing the procedure as early as 12 weeks into a pregnancy would be unconstitutional.
Beebe used the same reasoning as he did last week while vetoing a 20-week abortion ban — a veto lawmakers quickly overrode. The Democratic governor said the Arkansas Legislature's new Republican majority was violating the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion until a fetus could survive outside the womb — generally 22 to 24 weeks. The measure would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected using an abdominal ultrasound, which is generally 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
"Because it would impose a ban on a woman's right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion well before viability, Senate Bill 134 blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court," Beebe said in his veto letter. "When I was sworn in as governor I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. I take that oath seriously."
An override attempt on the 12-week ban will begin in the Senate on Tuesday. A simple majority is required from both chambers for an override to be successful.
The 20-week ban went into effect immediately after lawmakers voted to override Beebe's veto last week, but the 12-week ban wouldn't take effect until this summer.
Republicans, who took control of both chambers of the Arkansas Legislature this year for the first time since Reconstruction, could overcome Beebe's veto if they all vote together. The GOP holds 21 of 35 Senate seats and 51 of 100 House seats.
"It's not a surprise. Given the opportunity to save lives of unborn children, this governor has always chosen this session to say, 'No'," Sen. Jason Rapert, the Republican from Conway who proposed the 12-week ban, told reporters. "I'm disappointed for all of the unborn children that could have been saved in this bill, but I have faith that the 70 percent of the Legislature that voted to pass the bill will be there to override this veto."
The 12-week measure includes exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders. The 20-week measure, based on the disputed notion that fetuses can feel pain, does not include exemptions for fetal disorders.
Beebe had previously said he found the 12-week ban even more problematic than the 20-week one. He wouldn't say whether rejecting the 12-week ban was an easier decision.
"Both of them are constitutional issues. I don't know if you'd characterize one as easier than the other," Beebetold reporters. "It becomes a question of what is the constitutionality of the bill."
In both veto letters, he cited the potential cost of fighting litigation against the bans. Beebe said he did not plan on reaching out to lawmakers in the House or Senate to ask them to uphold his veto.
No Senate Democrats voted to override Beebe's veto of the 20-week measure last week, and only two of the 48 House Democrats supported the override.
However, the top Democrat in the House said he expected fewer Democrats to sustain Beebe's veto this time around.
"I've heard from some members who've gone back home since the vote on the veto override last week and have felt quite a bit of pressure from their constituents," said Fayetteville Rep. Greg Leding. "We pushed as hard as we could last time and came up short, and I don't expect to see that kind of effort this time."
At least one Democrat who supported Rapert's bill said he was unlikely to override the governor. "I think it's probably less constitutional than the first one was," said Sen. Larry Teague, a Democrat from Nashville who voted for Rapert's bill.
The Senate approved the 12-week ban on a 26-8 vote Thursday, moments after approving the override of the 20-week prohibition along party lines. The House approved it a week earlier on a 68-20 vote.
The measures are among several abortion restrictions Arkansas lawmakers are considering after Republicans won control of the House and Senate in November. Beebe signed one of those measures, prohibiting insurers participating in the online marketplace created under the federal health law from covering most abortions.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has called the 12-week measure "the most extreme abortion ban in the country" and has vowed to sue if it's enacted.
"Despite continued attacks on women's health care from the Arkansas Legislature, Governor Beebe has remained steadfast in his support for women's health care," said Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. "Unfortunately we can't say the same about extreme lawmakers pushing these dangerous bills."
The original version of Rapert's bill would have banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, but he changed the measure after facing resistance from some lawmakers.
The measure was written so that it would take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. The Legislature is not expected to adjourn until later this month or next month.