Arkansas governor vetoes 20-week abortion bill

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe speaks during a news conference at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012.
AP Photo

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Democratic Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe on Tuesday vetoed a Republican-backed bill that would have banned most abortions in the state at 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

The bill was based on the disputed belief that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. It included exemptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Beebe had said previously that he had concerns about the bill's constitutionality and he cited those concerns in his statement announcing the veto. Opponents had said the ban ran afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion until the point where fetuses can survive outside the womb, usually at 22 to 24 weeks. Beebe also expressed concern about the potential cost to the state to defend the bill.

Lawmakers can override Beebe's veto with a simple majority.

The House approved the bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Andy Mayberry, on an 80-10 vote last week. It had been previously approved by the Senate.

While the bill made an exception for cases where the mother's life is in jeopardy, it did not have an exemption for cases in which the fetus has a fatal disease or disorder.

Beebe said he met with Mayberry before making his decision.

Mayberry's bill was one of two abortion measures under consideration by the Legislature, which has a Republican majority for the first time since Reconstruction.

The second bill bans abortion at the point in which a heartbeat can be detected using an abdominal ultrasound — typically about 12 weeks into a pregnancy. That bill has already passed both chambers but is headed back to the Senate on Wednesday for lawmakers to vote on amendment that includes an exemption for fatal fetal disorders.

The House already approved the version with the amendment.

The original version of the "heartbeat" bill passed the Senate 26-8.