LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas House overwhelmingly approved legislation banning most abortions at 20 weeks into a pregnancy on Thursday, then passed another abortion restriction that would be among the most stringent in the nation if it became law.
Lawmakers voted 80-10 on the passage of the 20-week proposal and sent it to Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who has said he has constitutional concerns about both proposals but declined to say whether he would veto them.
The 20-week measure includes exemptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, but not for fatal fetal disorders. It is based on the disputed idea that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks.
"This addresses those who are the most weak and innocent and vulnerable among us," said the bill's lead sponsor, Republican Rep. Andy Mayberry on the House floor. "It would protect them from a very painful, excruciating death."
No lawmakers spoke against the measure. Twenty-nine of the 48 House Democrats and the chamber's only Green Party member voted for the 20-week ban. Ten Democrats voted against it, while nine did not vote. House Speaker Davy Carter, a Republican, also did not vote.
The House previously approved a version of Mayberry's bill that did not include exemptions for rape or incest, but the sponsor changed the bill before it passed the Senate earlier this week.
Lawmakers can override a veto from the governor with a simple majority in both chambers.
House lawmakers also approved Thursday a measure that would be among the strictest abortion restrictions in the country if it becomes law. They voted 68-20 to approve a bill banning most abortions at 12 weeks into a pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is detected. Two lawmakers voted "present," which has the same effect as a no vote.
The 12-week measure, sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert and Rep. Ann Clemmer, both Republicans, contains exceptions for rape, incest and risk to the mother's life. The Senate already approved an earlier version of the legislation by an 18-vote margin, but it will need to sign off on amendments to the bill that exempt fetal fatal disorders and remove criminal penalties for doctors who violate the restrictions.
Supporters have said the measure is aimed at pushing the envelope on constitutional law about abortion.
Clemmer told lawmakers before Thursday's vote that the bill struck a compromise between deeply entrenched positions on the abortion debate.
"This is a fair balance," she said. "It's time that we reign in elective, late-term abortions."
Democratic opponents of the measure said they thought it was unconstitutional and would cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend lawsuits.
"If we pass this bill, we take choices away from the women in this state," said Rep. Patti Julian, D-North Little Rock. "I ask you to leave choice in the hands of the people it belongs to — those people who would choose to carry children if they knew they would be healthy, happy, welcomed, loved babies."
The 12-week measure now heads to the Senate.
Associated Press Writer Andrew DeMillo contributed to this report.
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