UPDATE Pair of abortion bans get House OK


LITTLE ROCK — The House on Thursday sent to Gov. Mike Beebe legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks and sent a 12-week abortion ban back to the Senate for final consideration.

Legislation that would give a pregnant woman the right to use deadly force to protect her fetus also passed the House.

The Senate did not meet Thursday.

Gov. Mike Beebe has questioned the constitutionality of the two abortion bans but has not said whether he would veto either measure if it reached his desk.

House members gave final legislative approval to House Bill 1037 — the so-called “fetal pain” bill — by voting 80-10 to concur in a Senate amendment that added exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. The bill had passed previously in the House without the amendment in a 75-20 vote.

The bill by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, would prohibit an abortion at the point at which it maintains a fetus can feel pain, 20 weeks. Originally, it only included exceptions for pregnancies that threatened the life of the mother or irreversible physical impairment to the mother.

Speaking for his bill on the House floor, Mayberry said it would protect unborn children “from a very painful, excruciating death.”

“I believe that these children one day would like to come and personally thank you for your vote,” he said.

Also, the House passed Senate Bill 134 by a vote of 68-20. The proposal by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, which would ban an abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected at 12 weeks or later into a pregnancy.

The version the House passed includes changes added since the measure cleared the Senate last week — exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies and medical emergencies, and replacement of language that would have made it a felony for a physician to perform an abortion after 12 weeks with new language that instead would punish an offending doctor with revocation of his or her medical license.

Rep. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton presented the bill on the House Floor.

“It’s been 40 years (since the U.S Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision), and I think it’s time that we reined in elective late-term abortions,” she said.

Several members spoke against the bill, including Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock.

“I think this bill as it now is is unconstitutional,” said Edwards, a lawyer. “But I also believe that there is a point … that we have to trust a woman to make the decision that she feels is right for her. We have to trust the families involved. So I have decided to trust women on this issue and I have decided to place my faith in the Constitution.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has said states cannot ban abortions before a fetus becomes viable, or able to survive outside the womb, which generally occurs at 23 or 24 weeks. A 20-week abortion ban in Arizona has been upheld by a federal judge, but that ruling is being appealed.

Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, spoke for the bill, saying, “There is a high court of this land, but there’s a higher court of man, and it’s ruled by God.”

Rep. Homer Lenderman, D-Brookland, predicted the state would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend the measure and ultimately would lose.

Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, said that “at one time slavery was constitutional.”

Rep. Patti Julian, D-North Little Rock, said slavery was wrong because it took choices away from people.

“If we pass this bill, we take choices away from the women in this state,” she said.

If Beebe were to veto either or both of the abortion bills, legislators could override his veto with a simple majority in both chambers.

In other action Thursday, the House”:

— Voted 93-0 to approve SB 170 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, which would allow a pregnant woman to use physical force or deadly force to protect what the measure refers to as her “unborn child” from an attack. The bill goes to the governor.

— Voted 95-0 to approve SB 15 by Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, which would streamline the process for children of people in the military who transfer to an Arkansas school from a school outside the state. The bill goes to the governor.

— Approved, 89-1, HB 1295 by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, The legislation would guarantee that a student who transfers from one school district to another can complete his or her secondary education in that school district even if the law under which the transfer was approved is found to be unconstitutional. Siblings of the student also could complete their secondary education in the same district. The bill goes to the Senate.

— Approved, 97-0, HB 1364 by Rep. Debra Hobbs, R-Rogers. The bill would allow a person seeking a non-traditional teacher’s license to go through an accelerated training program. It goes to the Senate.

— Approved, 72-6, HB 1356 by Rep. Sue Scott, R-Rogers, which would require revocation of the license of a chiropractor convicted of a sex crime and require criminal background checks for chiropractors. The bill goes to the Senate.

— Approved in a voice vote House Joint Resolution 1013, which honors the memory of General William Darby, recognizes his contributions to the Army Rangers and supports a project to erect a statue in Darby’s honor in Cisterna Park in Fort Smith.

Elsewhere Thursday, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee endorsed HB 1399 by Rep. Joe Farrer, R-Austin, which would allow volunteer firefighters to deduct from their state income taxes the amount of money they spend buying firefighting equipment and any losses to personal property that they experience while fighting fires, up to a maximum of $1,000.

Tim Leathers, deputy director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, testified against the bill, which is estimated to cost the state $48,700 a year. The tax break is not included in the governor’s balanced budget proposal, nor are many other tax bills that will come before the committee, Leathers said.

Beebe on Thursday signed into law SB 93 by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, which eliminates the statute of limitations for certain sex crimes committed against minors. The bill is now Act 144 of 2013.