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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, is shown next to a screenshot of the first page of House Bill 1439.

A bill outlawing abortions after 18 weeks into a woman's pregnancy -- except in medical emergencies and in cases of rape or incest -- cleared its final legislative hurdle in the House on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, a Senate committee backed three more bills related to abortion. Each of those bills originated in that chamber.

The House voted 86-1 to accept a Senate amendment to House Bill 1439 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, that added an exemption for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest. Rep. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, was the sole "no" vote.

HB1439 was passed in the House in February with only an exemption for medical emergencies.

"It needed to be done," Lundstrum said of the amendment. "It's a compromise. It was something both sides felt like was something they wanted."

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that he thinks the legislation can likely survive court challenges, and he intends to sign the amended bill.

"I support it because it is a good pro-life bill, and it has in there the exceptions for life of the mother and instances of rape and incest," Hutchinson told reporters. "It's within the second trimester that states are allowed to pass restrictions on, and with the science that we have today, it seems like very appropriate restrictions."

An official with the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the group plans to sue the state if HB1439 becomes law.

The group called the legislation "extreme" in a Wednesday statement.

"Arkansas politicians continue to sink to new lows in their crusade to ban abortion and dictate women's personal medical decisions," said Rita Sklar, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. "In their zeal to deny women the right to decide when and whether to start a family, Arkansas lawmakers are trampling on the Constitution and putting the health of Arkansans at risk. This bill is dangerously extreme and similar to laws that have been blocked by courts here in Arkansas and other states."

HB1439 would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion more than 18 weeks after the first day of the woman's last period, or 16 weeks after fertilization. Arkansas now bars abortions past 20 weeks.

The ban would be lifted in cases in which the woman was raped or in cases of incest. Additionally, abortions could be performed after 18 weeks in instances where continuation of the pregnancy would put the mother's life at risk.

The bill would make Arkansas the third state to restrict abortion 18 weeks after fertilization, joining Mississippi and North Carolina.

Last month, Hutchinson signed into law a bill that would ban abortion in Arkansas if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the precedent it set in Roe v. Wade or if the U.S. Constitution is amended to allow states to outlaw the procedure except in medical emergencies.

The Arkansas Department of Health recorded 3,249 abortions in Arkansas in 2017. Of those, 173 were performed after 16 weeks, with 75 of those after 18 weeks, according to Health Department data.

Three more bills restricting abortion cleared the all-Republican Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor on Wednesday with no dissent.

Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, would prohibit abortions from being performed solely because the unborn child has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Senate Bill 448, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, would require physicians who perform or induce abortions to be board-certified, or eligible for such certification, in obstetrics and gynecology.

It would also expand the definition of "viability" to include a fetus that, in a physician's judgment, can live outside the womb on life support "in light of the most advanced medical technology."

Arkansas Code 20-16-702 now defines a viable fetus as simply one that can live outside the womb.

Abortions of such fetuses are prohibited except to preserve the life or health of the mother or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

SB448 would also remove a presumption in the law that a fetus is not viable before the end of the 25th week of pregnancy.

Senate Bill 278, also by Stubblefield, would increase the waiting period required before an abortion from 48 to 72 hours and place additional restrictions on abortion clinics.

After some committee members expressed concerns during a meeting last month, the bill was amended to remove a provision that would have made violations of the requirements by a physician a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

The three bills now go to the full Senate.

Information for this article was contributed by Andy Davis, Jeannie Roberts and Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 03/14/2019

Print Headline: 18-week abortion limit heads to Arkansas governor

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