Gov. Mike Beebe on Tuesday vetoed House Bill 1037, which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of gestation.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, would have banned abortions at 20 weeks except for cases of rape, incest, to save the mother's life or prevent catastrophic injury to the mother's health or bodily functions.
Beebe said in his veto letter he opposed the bill because, "it would impose a ban on a woman’s right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion before viability," and it "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," Beebe wrote in the letter.
Mayberry based the bill on the disputed idea that 20 weeks is the point at which a fetus is capable of feeling pain.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Friday that the bill would have a small affect on abortions in Arkansas, as the Arkansas Department of Health said 48 of the 4,033 abortions that took place in Arkansas in 2011 were performed at or after 20 weeks.
The bill arrived on Beebe's desk after it passed the House on Thursday in a 80-10 vote with no debate. The article said the 10 "no" votes were Democrats, and nine House members who did not vote were also Democrats.
Beebe told reporters that he respected Mayberry's "class" in dealing with the veto. Beebe said Mayberry did present other arguments, but in the end Beebe could not sign the bill, because it was "unconstitutional."
Lawmakers can override Beebe's veto with a simple majority. Republicans have majorities in both the state House and Senate.
"Hopefully [the veto] sends the right message, and they won't override it," Beebe said.
Another abortion bill, Senate Bill 134, is awaiting final consideration from the Senate before appearing on Beebe's desk, after it was passed by the House, 68-20, on Thursday.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, would ban abortions after 12 weeks if a fetal heartbeat is detected. The bill would require any woman considering abortion after 12 weeks to receive an abdominal ultrasound to determine whether there is a heartbeat.
The bill includes exemptions for cases of rape, incest or when the fetus is not likely to survive long after birth.
Beebe said Rapert's bill was "more problematic," but would not confirm that he would veto the legislation.
"They need to vote up or down to take whatever stance they need to take," Beebe said. "I'll do what I feel I need to do when it hits my desk.
"It would be kind of naive for me not to acknowledge to you, I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to do on a bill that's even more problematic than the one I already vetoed, but I won't tell you officially until that time."
Opponents of both bills say they violate federal court precedent on how states can restrict abortion, and the American Civil Liberties Union has said it is prepared to take action against the legislation.
Bettina Brownstein, an attorney with the Arkansas chapter of the ACLU, says challenging the 20-week ban might have taken a while, but action would be taken immediately against Rapert's 12-week ban if it becomes law.
Read more in Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.