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Arkansas Legislature Embraces Strictest U.S. Abortion Law

Arkansas has approved a law banning most abortions after 12 weeks of gestation, as both houses of the state's legislature vote to override a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. The Republican-backed Human Heartbeat Protection Act will become the nation's most restrictive law.

In vetoing the Senate version of the bill Monday, Beebe said that it "would impose a ban on a woman's right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion well before viability."

The bill, whose main sponsor is Sen. Jason Rapert, would require anyone who provides abortions in Arkansas to "perform an abdominal ultrasound test necessary to detect a heartbeat of an unborn human individual according to standard medical practice."

If a heartbeat is detected and the pregnancy is at 12 weeks or greater, an abortion would be forbidden. Exceptions are provided for cases of medical emergency, rape, and other situations.

In Arkansas, state law requires a simple majority vote to overturn a veto by the governor. The Senate voted 20-14 to overrule that move Tuesday, and the House followed suit by a vote of 56-33 Wednesday. If it survives legal challenges, the bill would take effect this summer.

After the successful bid to overturn the veto, Rapert said, "I'm just grateful that this body has continued to stand up for the bills that have passed. The eyes of the entire nation were on the Arkansas House of Representatives today," according to the website Arkansas Business.

Writing in support of his veto, Beebe said the bill "contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court." And he warned that defending the bill in court could prove "very costly to the taxpayers of our State."

As Politico reports, the ACLU plans to fight the new measure. Last week, the legislature overruled a veto of a similar bill that forbade any abortion after 20 weeks of gestation.

The 12-week ban could affect roughly 1 in 5 abortions in Arkansas.

"The Arkansas Department of Health shows that 815 abortions, or roughly 20 percent of all abortions, took place in Arkansas in 2011 at or after 12 weeks of gestation," reports The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "The department shows a total of 4,033 abortions took place in 2011."

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