20-Week Abortion Ban Bill Vetoed by Arkansas Governor

LITTLE ROCK, AR – Governor Mike Beebe has vetoed a 20-week abortion bill sent to his desk from the legislature, citing the proposed law would contradict with Supreme Court precedent.

Beebe also said he wishes to minimize the taxpayer burden that would be required to defend unconstitutional laws in court.

The bill had sought to ban abortions in Arkansas after 20 weeks.

The Arkansas House passed the bill 80-10 on Friday, sending it to the governor’s office.

Bill sponsor Representative Andy Mayberry (R-Hensley) cited data that less than 2 percent of abortions occur that late, before he added exceptions for the health or life of the mother, rape and incest.

Earlier this month, Beebe said he had serious constitutional concerns about the bill.

Another abortion bill, the 12-week “fetal heartbeat” bill banning abortions once a heartbeat is detected, is expected to reach the governor’s desk later this week.

The bill’s sponsor, Jason Rapert, says it’s constitutional, while Governor Beebe maintains the proposal is unconstitutional.

Governor Beebe vetoes House Bill 1037 this afternoon. His veto letter included the following section:

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. 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.

Second, the adoption of unconstitutional laws can be very costly to the taxpayers of our State. 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. 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. Those costs and fees can be significant. In the last case in which the constitutionality of an Arkansas abortion statute was challenged, Little Rock Family Planning Services v. Jegley, 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. Those fee awards were entered in 1999, and litigation fees and costs have increased extensively since then. The taxpayers’ exposure, should HB 1037 become law, will be significantly greater.

While I must therefore veto HB 1037, I wish to express my appreciation to its principal sponsor, Representative Mayberry, for his candor and for his respect for the Governor’s role in the legislative process.

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