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Why the fight over Arkansas' new 12-week abortion ban is just getting started
Arkansas passes the most restrictive abortion ban in the United States, prompting vows of legal challenges from the ACLU and other abortion-rights supporters
State Sen. Jason Rapert, who sponsored the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, speaks in the Senate chamber in Little Rock, March, 5.
State Sen. Jason Rapert, who sponsored the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, speaks in the Senate chamber in Little Rock, March, 5. AP Photo/Danny Johnston
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esterday, Arkansas passed the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, which bans abortions after 12 weeks. The bill had already been vetoed by Democratic governor Mike Beebe, but the Arkansas House overrode his veto by a vote of 56-33, putting into law the most restrictive abortion ban in the country.

Not that anti-abortion activists can rest easy. As Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU Arkansas, told Politico: "We are preparing the papers to go to court as we speak. In fact, we've been working on them since the bill was filed."

In other words, abortions-rights supporters already have their legal responses planned out. This includes the Center for Reproductive Rights, which, in a statement released today, said they would "fight this offensive law to the end to make sure that women in Arkansas and the surrounding states have access to the safest, high-quality reproductive health care, a right that is protected by the U.S. Constitution."

Even those who support the content of the bill are worried it will fail to hold up in court. James Bopp Jr., a prominent anti-abortion lawyer, is certain lower courts will rely upon past Supreme Court rulings and rule the law unconstitutional, telling 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."

In fact, one of the reasons why Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the law in the first place was because he thought it was "blatantly unconstitutional." The same day that Arkansas passed its law, a federal court struck down a law in Idaho that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. As in Idaho, legislators in Arkansas attempted to use fetal-homicide laws, which charge murderers of pregnant women with the death of the unborn child, to justify the abortion ban. Arkansas Rep. Ann Clemmer told the Washington Times that she believes the bill could survive a court challenge because the state's fetal-homicide law treats a 12-week-old fetus as a person and, therefore, "there are two people involved now."

A legal challenge before the law takes effect this summer is just about guaranteed. And such wrangling in court will be expensive. According to The Associated Press, Beebe is concerned about how much the legal battles over this and a 20-week ban he vetoed earlier will cost taxpayers, citing when Arkansas had to pay "nearly $148,000 to attorneys for plaintiffs who successfully challenged a 1997 late-term abortion ban." Republican members of the Arkansas House don't seem concerned about the money, though. "Not the governor, nor anyone else other than the courts, can determine if something is constitutional or unconstitutional," Rep. Bruce Westerman said in urging his colleagues to override Beebe. The governor's got a fight.

Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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