Senate votes to override 12-week abortion veto

Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, arrives to the Senate floor Tuesday before a vote to override Senate Bill 134, sponsored by Rapert.
Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, arrives to the Senate floor Tuesday before a vote to override Senate Bill 134, sponsored by Rapert.

Arkansas lawmakers took the first step in overriding a veto from Gov. Mike Beebe on Tuesday, as the Senate voted 20-14 in favor of a bill banning abortions after 12 weeks of gestation.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, said while "partisan divide" was evident in Tuesday's vote, which was closer than the previous Senate vote of 26-8 to help the bill get to Beebe's desk, he was not worried about his bill not making it through the House vote.

Rapert said he spoke with House members earlier Tuesday who said they would support the bill in the override vote. Rapert said he has asked legislators to vote the same as the first time his bill came through.

"In this state, if you're going to have a baby that is killed in the mother's womb, and they're able to be prosecuted, it makes perfect sense that you're going to protect the life of that child in any other instance," he said.

Senate Bill 134 was the second abortion-ban bill Beebe has vetoed in as many weeks.

The first bill, House Bill 1037, sponsored by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, was vetoed by Beebe on Feb. 26. That bill was intended to ban abortions after 20 weeks' gestation, with some exceptions.

Arkansas legislators were successful in overriding the veto by gaining simple majorities in the House, 53-28, and the Senate, 19-14.

Beebe said last week that Rapert's 12-week ban was the "more problematic" of the abortion ban bills.

In his veto letter Monday, Beebe said Rapert's bill would, "impose a ban on a woman's right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion well before viability."

Beebe said that Senate Bill 134 would "blatantly" violate the United States Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade. The court ruling has allowed women to have abortions up to the point of fetal viability, which is somewhere between 22 and 24 weeks. He also said he took an oath as governor to "preserve, protect and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States."

"I take that oath seriously," he said in the letter.

"Abortion is governed by case law," Rapert said Tuesday. "When people say they took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Arkansas Constitution, the only oath that they're breaking is upholding the Arkansas Constitution if they don't vote for this bill, because the Arkansas Constitution says that we will protect life in Arkansas from the moment of conception."

Under the category of abortion, the Arkansas Constitution states the policy of the state is "to protect the life of every unborn child from conception until birth, to the extent permitted by the Federal Constitution."

Beebe also cited potential litigation costs to Arkansas taxpayers if Senate Bill 134 became law.

Bettina Brownstein, an attorney with the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the group would file a suit against Rapert's bill if it becomes law.

Brownstein echoed Beebe's concerns with the bill that is unconstitutional.

Rapert said "threats" from the ACLU did not concern him, and also said potential litigation costs were a "hypothetical" and an "unknown."

"It's funny how (the ACLU) is always willing to take up for murderers, but they're not willing to take up for human lives," Rapert said. "The fact of the matter is, this bill saves lives."

Rapert said there are national firms that are willing to take the case for free. Beebe mentioned the possibility of free representation in his veto letter, but said that since he believes the state would lose the battle in court, it would "only lessen the state's own litigation costs."

"Lawsuits challenging unconstitutional laws also result in the losing party, in this case the state, being ordered to pay the costs and attorneys' fees incurred by the litigants who successfully challenge the law," Beebe said.

Read more in Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


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