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Arkansas bans most abortions after 20 weeks pregnancy

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Arkansas joined seven other U.S. states on Thursday in banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy as the Republican-controlled state Senate voted to override a veto of the legislation by Democratic Governor Mike Beebe.

Senators voted 19 to 14 on party lines to override Beebe's veto, following a 53 to 28 vote by the Republican-controlled state House on Wednesday. In Arkansas, lawmakers can override a veto by a simple majority vote.

The law provides exceptions only in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life. It does not include an exemption for any lethal fetal disorders.

Republican state Representative Andy Mayberry, the primary sponsor, said he believes the law, which was modeled after a 20-week ban in Nebraska, is constitutional.

Rita Sklar, director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said the bill was unconstitutional.

"The Supreme Court has upheld voluntary abortions up to the point of viability - 20 weeks is pre-viability," Sklar said.

Beebe had said he vetoed the 20-week ban because he believed it contradicted the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe versus Wade decision that legalized abortion, and it would be costly to defend the law from legal challenges.

"We made the best case we could in our veto letter and explained the legal problems with the law and what that could cost our people," Beebe's spokesman, Matt DeCample, said. "The final say, however, remains with the legislature."

Late-term abortions remain relatively rare. Most of the recent state laws banning most abortions after 20 weeks are based on controversial medical research suggesting that a fetus feels pain starting at 20 weeks of gestation.

Arkansas senators also voted 26 to 8 on Thursday to approve a ban on most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected by a standard ultrasound, or about 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The bill, which now goes to Beebe, includes exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and fetal conditions. Doctors who violate the prohibition would have their licenses revoked by the state Medical Board.

The chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Jill June, said the so-called "heartbeat" bill would be the most stringent restriction on abortion in the country.

"It's disheartening that our lawmakers are knowingly passing an unconstitutional abortion ban for the sake of politics," June said of the Senate's votes on Thursday.

(Editing by David Bailey, Greg McCune and Leslie Adler)

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