Arkansas abortion law is strictest in U.S.

Erik Eckholm / New York Times News Service /

Published Mar 7, 2013 at 04:00AM

In the sharpest challenge yet to Roe v. Wade, Arkansas adopted Wednesday what is by far the country’s most restrictive ban on abortion, at 12 weeks of pregnancy, around the time that a fetal heartbeat can be detected by abdominal ultrasound.

The law was passed by the newly Republican-controlled legislature over the veto of Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, who called it “blatantly unconstitutional.” On Tuesday the state Senate voted 20-14 to override his veto; on Wednesday the House enacted the bill into law by a vote of 55-33, with several Democrats joining the Republican majority.

The law contradicts the limit established by Supreme Court decisions, which give women a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks into pregnancy, and pro-abortion rights groups promised a quick lawsuit to block it.

Adoption of the law, called the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, is the first statewide victory for a restless emerging faction within the anti-abortion movement that has lost patience with the incremental whittling away at abortion rights — the strategy of established groups like National Right to Life and the Catholic Church while they wait for a more sympathetic Supreme Court.

“When is enough enough?” asked the bill’s sponsor in the legislature, Sen. Jason Rapert, 40, a Republican and conservative Christian, who compared the more than 50 million abortions in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade, in 1973, to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. “It’s time to take a stand.”

But pro-abortion rights groups and many legal experts, including some in the anti-abortion movement, say the law so sharply contradicts existing constitutional doctrine that it will quickly be voided.

“The 12-week ban actually bars abortion within the first trimester,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York. “It has no chance of surviving a court challenge.”

The center and the American Civil Liberties Union have vowed to swiftly bring a case in federal court, aiming to head off the law before it takes effect 90 days after the legislature disbands in the next month or so.

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