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Arkansas House passes most restrictive abortion ban in U.S.
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The Arkansas state House of Representatives voted on Monday for a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks without any exceptions, according to the Associated Press.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 77 to 15, also bans insurers from providing abortion care if they participate in the state-sponsored health insurance exchange that the state set up under the mandate of 2010’s Affordable Care Act.

Arkansas Republicans have comfortable majorities in both of the state legislative bodies, but the state’s Democratic Gov. Mike Bebee, though he hasn’t committed either way on the bill, says his office’s research suggests the bill is unconstitutional.

“Obviously, we don’t want to pass unconstitutional laws and end up in court costing taxpayers tons of money,” Beebe told the AP.

The state House’s top Democrat, Rep. Greg Leding, objected to the bill on the grounds it didn’t offer exceptions for victims of rape or incest. In debate before the bill passed, he said, “The case made for that exclusion is that a woman should have been able to make that decision early in her pregnancy. But what if that woman is a 12-year-old girl and she’s raped by a family member or friend and she’s too afraid to speak or at that young age is simply unaware that she’s pregnant?”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Butch Wilkins, argued the bill would prevent public money from being spent on abortion, but both the federal Hyde Amendment and Arkansas state law already prevent that from taking place.

Murry Newbern, a lobbyist with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told Latin news site Terra that just two abortions had been performed in the state of Arkansas in 2011, both the result of pregnancy complications.

“Extreme groups pushing these bills want to eliminate abortion. This bill has nothing to do with the health and safety of a woman. It’s an attempt to chip away access to abortion,” Newbern said.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks anti-abortion legislation in the states, similar bills have been introduced in 15 states in 2012, with measures passing in at least one chamber in Florida, Kansas and New Hampshire.

Arizona enacted a ban of abortions after 20 weeks from a woman’s last period in 2012, though that law includes an exception for the life of the woman and if the pregnancy should pose a “substantial and irreversible impairment” to the woman’s health. Arizona’s law is undergoing a legal challenge, and the 9th Circuit Court issued an injunction on the law. Georgia also enacted a 20-week abortion ban, but a state court has temporarily blocked the implementation of that ban. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) also signed a Louisiana ban on abortion after 20 weeks in June 2011, though that law also provides for life and health exceptions. The Louisiana law went into effect in August last year.

Bettina Brownstein, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said that she believes the Arkansas bill is unconstitutional and told the AP the bill was “cruel to women and families.”

Photo: Pro-choice demonstrators in Ohio on June 27, 2011. (Flickr/ProgressOhio)

[Editor’s note: This post has been updated to correct that Arizona’s law is not in effect, as a court issued an injunction and clarifies when the ban takes place.]

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