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House panel advances 12-week abortion restriction

Arkansas is on the verge of passing the most restrictive abortion law in the country, restricting the procedure after 12 weeks of pregnancy. But governor Mike Beebe (D) says the "fetal heartbeat" bill is unconstitutional.
LITTLE ROCK, AR - Arkansas is on the verge of passing the most restrictive abortion law in the country, restricting the procedure after 12 weeks of pregnancy. But governor Mike Beebe (D) says the "fetal heartbeat" bill is unconstitutional.

As it's written, SB134 makes abortion after twelve weeks would illegal except in cases of rape, incest or health of the mother. That is far sooner than the 22-24 week precedent set by Roe v Wade in 1973.

Supporters of the fetal heartbeat bill say it would stop 815 abortions in Arkansas every year.

"The choice that's there can be made in the first 12 weeks," Rep. Ann Clemmer (R) Benton says.

However, more of those testifying in the House Public Health Committee spoke out against the bill.

Denise Marion of Hot Springs told committee members that she supports less government involvement in the private lives of citizens.

"Determining whether and when I should have a baby or forcing me to carry a pregnancy I do not want, how isn't that government intrusion," Marion says.

Bill sponsor Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow) says the law can hold up constitutionally.

"They are (governor and attorney general) in a position now where they really can not argue that this is unconstitutional,” Rapert says. “This is allowed by Roe v Wade."

Beebe told reporters Thursday he will not decide whether to veto the bill until the House approves it and sends to his desk. But he shared his reservations.

"Rapert's bill appears to be patently unconstitutional,” Beebe says. “That means it's got problems. That means it’s got problems with me."

It is the job of the legislature to pass laws, regardless if there is a court challenge, Clemmer says.

“Courts don't strike down their own opinions unless challenged,” Clemmer says. “So I'm quite comfortable, if we have to have a challenge this is a good law to put up."

A non-amended of the bill requiring a much more invasive ultrasound to detect a heartbeat cleared the Senate last week.

Both Rapert and Clemmer told reporters they had the votes in committee to pass the original version Thursday, but decided to change it to make it more palatable to more members.

The House is expected to vote on the bill on Monday.
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