Gov. Beebe Vetoes Unconstitutional Heartbeat Abortion Ban, Will Legislature Override Again?


Last week, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe vetoed an unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban, noting that the state funds that would be used to defend the ban in the courts would be too costly to allow it into law. The legislature ignored his concerns and overrode his veto. Now, Beebe has applied the same argument to the even more restrictive heartbeat ban, a bill that would outlaw most abortions in the state after 12 weeks’ gestation. Will his legislature override him again?

“[B]ecause it would impose a ban on a woman’s right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion well before viability, Senate Bill 134 blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court,” Beebe said via a statement when vetoing the bill. “When I was sworn in as governor I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. I take that oath seriously.” He again cited the costs that the state has incurred to defend unconstitutional laws, as well as the increase in legal costs since the state’s last visit to the courts.

Unlike the 20-week ban, which would actually ban abortions at 22 weeks’ gestation, there is far greater likelihood of a legal challenge to the 12-week heartbeat ban. There is only one clinic in the state of Arkansas that provides later abortions, and even that clinic cuts off at 21 weeks’ gestation, before the ban would go into effect. (The Arkansas bill bans abortions at 20 weeks’ “post-fertilization,” but pregnancy is more commonly tracked at gestation, a weekly timeline that is tracked based on the last menstrual period.) Without a provider who would regularly provide abortions later than when the ban would go into effect, it would take much more effort to find someone with standing to challenge the law in court, a key factor when it comes to blocking these bills.

With a 12-week ban, however, a challenger would be much easier to find, and a lawsuit far more likely. State Rep. Andy Mayberry (R-Hensley), the sponsor of the 20-week ban, told reporters prior to that bill’s veto override that he was concerned he would not be able to garner enough support for an override. He told reporters at the Arkansas News Bureau that he had “‘some warning signals that it … might be extremely close'” and that “he did some quick leg work and learned that he had enough votes for an override.” State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) barely managed to get his bill approved by the majority of the House committee. Can he pull together an even larger group of votes to get his bill into law?

Given that the vote for a 20-week ban override was as close as it was, a 12-week ban veto might actually stand. No doubt both the governor and Arkansas taxpayers will be hoping that that is the case.

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