Arkansas Ignores Roe v. Wade With America’s Strictest Abortion Ban

Yesterday, Arkansas’ state legislature overrode a governor’s veto on a “fetal heartbeat” abortion bill, making the state’s abortion laws the strictest in the country. The anti-choice law bans all abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, well before fetal viability, which was the cut-off decided by Supreme Court Justices forty years ago in Roe v. Wade.

“If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother,” reads the milestone 1973 decision.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) vetoed the bill earlier this week on the grounds that it “blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution.” Pro-choice groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights agree. They vowed to challenge the law in court, expressing confidence that the 12-week bar won’t pass the constitutional sniff test. Even anti-abortion advocates doubt the law will stay in the books.

“As much as we would like to protect the unborn at that point, it is futile and it won’t save any babies,” James Bopp Jr., a general counsel of National Right to Life told The New York Times.

Whether the law survives or not, the anti-choice bill highlights how far social conservatives will go to roll back 40 years of progress in health care and women’s rights. As Think Progress Tara Culp-Ressler points out, there’s absolutely no scientific basis for the “Human Heartbeat Protection Act.” Culp-Ressler writes, “Heartbeat measures are simply a dangerous attempt to redefine the medical terms of pregnancy and roll back women’s right to abortion on a state level.”

Worse yet, the Arkansas legislature initially proposed something even more primitive, banning all abortions at six weeks of pregnancy. Bill sponsor Senator Jason Rapert (R) raised the bar to 12 weeks fearing public outcry, especially considering that detecting heartbeat so early requires intrusive, trans-vaginal ultrasounds.

“It’s time to take a stand,” said Rapert, who, The New York Times reports, “compared the more than 50 million abortions in the United States since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide.”

This isn’t the first extremist crusade championed by Rapert. As Salon’s Katie McDonough reports, a video captured at a 2011 Tea Party rally shows the state senator assuring an audience that he “won’t allow minorities run roughshod over what you people believe in!” In the same rally, Rapert criticized President Obama for inviting Muslims to the White House to have “a little Ramadan supper.”

The “Human Heartbeat Protection Act” is set to go into effect 90 days after the Arkansas legislature adjourns next month.


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