Understanding the Toughest Anti-Abortion Law in the Country, the 'Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act'

Understanding the Toughest Anti-Abortion Law in the Country, the 'Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act'

The Arkansas legislature voted yesterday to override Governor Mike Beebe’s wise veto of SB 134, a.k.a. the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, which would ban nearly all abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. It’s by far the harshest abortion ban in the country, the most egregious challenge to Roe v Wade passed by a state or territorial legislature since Guam tried to ban all abortions in 1990, and almost certainly won’t hold up in court because it’s unconstitutional as fuck. Gold stars for Arkansas! Here’s everything you need to know.

What does the law do?

If the Human Heartbeat Protection Act goes into effect this summer as planned, almost all abortions would be banned after 12 weeks of pregnancy — yep, within the first trimester — since that’s when a fetal heartbeat can usually be detected by abdominal ultrasound. That means Arkansans would be cut off from the state’s already scant legal abortion services way before the point of viability, which is typically around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

It’s the first “fetal heartbeat” abortion measure to actually go into law.

SB 134 includes exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders.

Who’s against it?

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, called the law “blatantly unconstitutional” because IT IS. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held — first in Roe v. Wade and again in Planned Parenthood v. Casey — that states cannot ban abortion prior to viability. Beebe vetoed the bill because he doesn’t want to waste money defending a law that will most likely be overturned. (If the state loses, it has to pay all legal fees in the case.) Other states that have enacted 20-week bans (more on those later) are currently fighting them in court; various fetal heartbeat bills haven’t even gotten that far.

That’s why even some anti-abortion leaders think the measure is pointless, according to the New York Times. “As much as we would like to protect the unborn at that point, it is futile and it won’t save any babies,” said James Bopp Jr., a prominent anti-abortion lawyer is general counsel of National Right to Life. If this guy opposes a law, it’s kind of a big deal.

So why did it pass? Who supports it?

The State Senate voted Tuesday to override Beebe’s veto and the House followed suit on Wednesday with a 56-33 vote; several dickish Democrats joined the Republican majority. Basically, a large enough amount of the state’s Republicans are so psyched they have enough manpower to pass whatever crazy shit they feel like that they’re going ahead with the bill despite significant concerns as to whether it’s, er, viable enough.

From the AP:

Rep. Ann Clemmer, a Republican of Benton serving her third term in the House, asked her colleagues to support the override attempt, saying her votes on anti-abortion bills this year were the first time she could fully express her view on the issue at the Capitol. When Democrats held control, such bills never made it this far.
“If I say that I’m pro-life, at some point I have to do something about what I say I believe,” said Clemmer, the bill’s sponsor in the House.

Other awesome Clemmer quotes include “Protecting unborn children is … an important way to spend state resources” and “I’m very happy, relieved. I mean, any other adjective. But I mean, it’s a serious matter. I’m not having a victory dance here. I hope the court listens to us.”

Clemmer is definitely having a victory dance right now. Arkansans won’t have access to legal abortion services because of Clemmer’s victory dance.

How the fuck did we get here?

It’s not like this bill came completely out of nowhere. Senate Bill 134 was the second abortion ban to be vetoed by Beebe and then overridden by lawmakers in recent weeks; House Bill 1037, which banned abortions after 20 weeks with some exceptions, was vetoed on Feb. 26, but overturned by lawmakers last week. It took effect immediately. In total, ten states have gotten time limits for abortions down to 20 weeks on the crackpot theory that a fetus can “feel pain” by that point. They are under legal challenge in Arizona and Georgia, and a federal judge recently ruled the 20-week ban in Idaho to be unconstitutional, but that hasn’t deterred anti-abortion advocates from continuing to chip away at Roe v Wade.

How many women would be affected?

815 abortions, or roughly 20 percent of all abortions, took place in Arkansas in 2011 at or after 12 weeks of gestation out of a total of 4,033 abortions, according to The Arkansas Department of Health. The Guttmacher Institute’s Elizabeth Nash told the Times that a 12-week ban would affect an estimated 12 percent to 15 percent of abortions nationwide.

What happens now?

Both the Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU of Arkansas have committed to challenging the law in federal court before the law is scheduled to take effect 90 days after the legislative session adjourns. “The politicians supporting this legislative assault on women have made clear both their indifference to the lives and health of the women of Arkansas and their hostility toward the fundamental rights guaranteed to women by the U.S. Constitution,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “We intend to make it equally clear that no one’s constitutional rights are subject to revision by lawmakers intent on scoring political points, and that attempts such as this to turn back the clock on reproductive rights will not stand.”

Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union for Arkansas, said the ACLU will move for litigation of the law “as soon as possible.”

“It shows a disregard for women as human beings,” Sklar said. “In fact, Representative Klemmer said, to my amazement, that a 12-week-old fetus has the right as a fully human person to protect itself against its own mother. Let’s remember that at 12 weeks, a fetus cannot live outside its mother and pregnancy affects the mother’s health, the well-being … there are lots of reasons to have abortions and they should remain with the woman, her family and her doctor, and not give the choice over to the government.”

Image by Jim Cooke

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