In a move that’s shocking even in today’s era of Republican radicals doing everything in their power to protect unborn fetuses, Arkansas has adopted a new law banning abortions after 12 weeks—the most restrictive early abortion ban in the country.
On Wednesday, the Arkansas legislature overruled Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of the law, known as the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, which will take effect in 90 days. Under the new law, doctors who perform abortions on a woman who is more than 12 weeks pregnant will lose their medical licenses and face a felony charge of up to six years in prison.
There’s a chance that the law won’t hold up in court because, as Beebe said, it’s “blatantly unconstitutional” (the U.S. Supreme Court has maintained in both Roe v. Wade and 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 even some anti-abortion leaders predict will be overturned. “As much as we would like to protect the unborn at that point, it is futile and it won’t save any babies,” James Bopp Jr., a prominent anti-abortion lawyer and general counsel of National Right to Life, told The New York Times.
But the biggest concern among doctors in Arkansas is that the 12-week ban unfairly targets teens and poor women. “Women of means will be able to leave the state to undergo the procedure after 12 weeks, but teens and poor women don’t have this luxury,” Dr. Janet Cathey, an obstetrician in Little Rock who testified against both bills, told The Daily Beast. Teenagers account for nearly one third of post-12 week abortions, according to Little Rock Family Planning Services, the only clinic in the state that offers surgical abortions.
If the law is passed, exactly how many women in Arkansas would be affected? Statistics from 2011 show that 815 out of 4,033 total abortions in Arkansas—or roughly 20 percent—took place at or after 12 weeks of gestation.
Cathey also stressed that the bill effectively does away with millions of dollars of research in genetic testing and prenatal diagnosis, the results of which are only clear after 12 weeks of gestation. “We’ve done years of research and screening for chromosome anomalies, but if this law is enacted all of our progress will come to a halt,” she said.
Up until now, Cathey has considered herself to be a Republican, but the party’s stance on abortion has made her question her political affiliation. This latest ban comes on the heels of a separate bill banning abortions after 20 weeks except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life. That law went into effect immediately in Arkansas and has been gaining ground in other states. Both measures were pushed by Republicans who argue that abortion should be prohibited based on the unproven theory that fetuses can feel pain from the point of conception.
“I want to get as far away from these Tea Party people as possible. They just voted the party line and they’re cowards,” said Cathey. “As a physician, I’m concerned. As a citizen, I’m extremely disappointed.”