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

Arkansas 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.


Associate editor of Ms. magazine