Arkansas Abortion Law: Controversial Legislation Becomes Law

On Wednesday, Arkansas legislators voted through the country's most restrictive abortion law, banning all abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy.

Despite Gov. Mike Beebe's (D-Ark.) veto of the bill on Monday, citing its unconstitutionality, Arkansas law allows legislatures to override the ban with only a majority vote in each chamber. Only one week earlier, state legislature also overrode Beebe's veto of the "fetal pain" bill, which would ban abortions at 20 weeks.

Roe v. Wade states that the government cannot place restrictions on abortion that would place the life of the fetus over the life of the mother until the fetus is viable. A fetus is viable when it is able to survive outside the womb, and is currently defined as between 22 and 24 weeks. The Arkansas law halves this mandate.

State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Ark.) attempted to rationalize the bill in January, saying, "When there is a heartbeat there, you have a living human being."

But, as medical researchers have concluded, there is no reason to use fetal heartbeat as a means of crafting an abortion ban. It is a dangerous method of restricting a women's right to choose as much as possible.

Rapert's original version of the bill called for an abortion ban after 6 weeks, as this is when fetal heartbeat can first be detected — via transvaginal ultrasound. At this point in the pregnancy, this is an unnecessary medical procedure that, if unwanted, is considered rape according to the FBI.

Although most abortions in the United States occur before 12 weeks, this law would still outlaw 10% of all abortions in the state. Those most affected by the ban are the same who face stigma in other areas as well.

Disruptive life events such as physical abuse or rape by a partner contributed to 13.7% of U.S. second trimester (13 to 27 weeks) abortions, as well as loss of a job and a death in the family. Of abortion patients who experienced three of these events in the last year, 14.8% got second trimester abortions.

Lower education level and younger age also contribute heavily to one waiting to get an abortion. As these values increase, the number of second trimester abortions decrease dramatically. A third of all abortions after 12 weeks are obtained by teenagers who may be too afraid to make a decision, especially in a state like Arkansas that does not stress sex education or provide many safe spaces for the procedure. They also may be deterred by laws requiring parental consent for the procedure.

Arkansas is one of only two states to advance a bill of this caliber, and as of Wednesday is the only state to enact it.

In his veto letter, Beebe explained that the bill "would impose a ban on a woman’s right to choose an elective, non-therapeutic abortion well before viability," and that it "blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court."

The ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights, along with several other advocacy groups, are already threatening legal action if the law is enacted in the spring.