Arkansas Adopts Nation’s Strictest Abortion Ban (With North Dakota Not Far Behind)

7951833026_144bc0c001Arkansas has swiftly become a new battlefront of reproductive rights, with the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation. State lawmakers voted last week to override Governor Mike Beebe’s veto of a 12-week abortion ban, meaning it will go into effect this spring.

This new law directly contradicts Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion up to the point of fetal viability—about 24 weeks—or at any point of pregnancy if the woman’s life is at risk. The Arkansas ban will thus be challenged on constitutional grounds.

The Arkansas type of abortion ban, known colloquially as a “heartbeat” ban, is increasing in popularity among anti-abortion forces, with anti-abortion advocates pushing similar bills in such states as Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Wyoming. Such bans prohibit termination of a pregnancy at the point (12 weeks) at which a “fetal heartbeat” can sometimes be detected. However, “fetal heartbeat” is a misnomer, since the heart is still in a very early, embryonic stage of development.

Even though the new law includes no penalties for women getting abortions past 12 weeks, it has a chilling effect on abortion providers because it threatens doctors who provide abortions after 12 weeks with possible jail time and fines.

In vetoing the Arkansas bill, Democratic Gov. Beebe referred to the constitutional questions brought up by the legislation, saying:

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.

The ACLU has promised to fight the Arkansas law, and legal observers believe it will not survive if challenged in federal court. Nonetheless, the state of North Dakota is trying to outdo Arkansas and pass an even more restrictive abortion ban. The state legislature approved a bill on Friday that would make abortions illegal after just six weeks of pregnancy. It now goes to Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, and if he signs it the ban will go into effect August 1.

Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, counseled against signing it:

We urge the governor to veto this dangerous ban and to take this complex and deeply personal decision out of the hands of politicians and put it back in the hands of a woman, her family and her doctor, where it belongs. It is time lawmakers put a stop to extreme restrictions like these and the one recently passed by the Arkansas Legislature. In America, no woman, no matter where she lives, should be denied the ability to make this deeply personal decision.

Prior to advancing these draconian anti-abortion laws in Arkansas and North Dakota, the earliest abortion ban in the country was at 20 weeks. The ultimate end game for the anti-abortion extremists behind these state laws is, of course, to overturn Roe v. Wade

Photo courtesy of scytril via Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. “The ultimate end game for the anti-abortion extremists behind these state laws is, of course, to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

    Yes, it certainly is. And I have no doubt whatsoever that some of them would love to see Griswold v. Connecticut overturned as well. That is because both decisions give women the right to control our own reproductive processes, which ultra-conservative and/or ultra-religious guys were against from the beginning. How conservative male politicians can deny they’re waging a war on women is beyond me, since this kind of extreme legislation in these states proves that’s exactly what they are doing.

    Thanks, Ms., for keeping on top of this vital and rather scary development. I’m looking forward to receiving my first issue of Ms. as a now-official subscriber. Very late, I admit, but better late than never.

    • Thanks for becoming a subscriber! And thanks for noting the underlying enmity against Griswold as well!!!

      • My pleasure. After reading Ms. (the Winter 2013 issue) for the first time, I was hooked. I should have become a subscriber many years ago, but at least I am one now. 🙂

        Regarding Griswold, I believe the anti-choice extremists have long been against that too, including Romney/Ryan, who thankfully lost in the 2012 election. I’m scanning the past posts here covering Reproductive Rights, so I haven’t caught up on all the articles yet. I’ll catch up eventually.

  2. Dr David Bowman says:

    I’m not sure the end game is the overturn of Roe v Wade. It’s clear that an overturn would be to denude the conservative extremists of a valuable ally in anti choice/religions extremists. Abortion as an issue is the Conservatives’ most expedient means of control over a large and otherwise disparate segment of the population. The end game seems to be to make access to abortion virtual impossible with ever more restrictive laws at the state level. This tactic is also targeting access to contraception as well as accurate information regarding pregnancy and the use of contraception. Clearly such tactics and obstreperous legal convolutions are not in keeping with the spirit of the Federal governments upholding of a woman’s right to privacy as described in Row v Wade. Now a more insidious attack comes in the lawsuit against health care reform in that Hobby Lobby is suing for the right to eliminate access to contraception for their employes. Such laws would set precedent that a corporation or a government had a right to control over the bodies of the public. Paving the way for all manner of transgression upon our right to privacy and control over our body, of men as well as women. It’s amazing that anti choice religious extremists don’t see that such laws pave the way to make it possible for them to be forced to have abortions or be sterilized. Legislation is always a double edged sword and there are many examples of laws that are now being used to affect the opposite of what they were originally intended to accomplish. We need to ratify the ERA and also have a constitutional amendment that guarantees a woman’s right to reproductive freedom as well as access to contraception and abortion services.

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