Republican State Senator Jason Rapert sponsored the legislation. Democratic Governor Mike Beebe vetoed it, but the Republican-dominated Senate and House (which needed only a simple majority) overrode his veto.
The measure bans abortions in Arkansas after a woman's twelfth week of pregnancy (first trimester), when a fetal heartbeat can usually be detected by a standard ultrasound. Rape, incest, danger to the life of the mother, and major fetal conditions are excepted from the rule. The state medical board is to revoke the licenses of physicians who violate the new law, which goes into effect this summer.
Background in American law
The Supreme Court’s 7-to-2 decision in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case affirmed a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion in the United States. However, in 2011 and 2012, state legislators enacted more restrictions on abortion than at any time since the ruling four decades ago.
- Most states (80%) have decided to prohibit abortions at some stage of pregnancy. Until now, 20 weeks (in 10 states) was the earliest accepted time. Oklahoma has the most abortion restrictions; on the other hand, Oregon has none.
- In over half the nation (26 states), only 10% of counties have a physician or group that provides abortions.
- Only seven states have abortion providers in more than half their counties.
Who can get abortions, and who can't
More than a million women in the United States have at least one abortion each year. Although it is a woman's right and responsibility to make a fully informed decision about an unplanned pregnancy, opportunities to use those choices remain severely restricted throughout the nation.
"The geography of abortion [now] follows the red and blue political patterning of the states," says Richard Florida of The Atlantic. This is a major reversal of the situation from the 1970s to about 1990, when the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “extensive Republican or Democratic control in a state is uncorrelated with abortion rates."
Across income, education, and occupation, abortion rates relate to the wealth and affluence of states, with the Northeast and West Coast having higher numbers of abortions. Mr. Florida concludes that "women in poorer states with more traditional blue-collar economies face fewer, if any, choices for reproductive health services and must contend with far greater restrictions on their reproductive rights."
The take-home on Arkansas
Governor Beebe said that the Arkansas heartbeat bill "blatantly contradicts" the Supreme Court's take on the U.S. Constitution. He also brought up the potential costs to taxpayers of dealing with legal challenges, such as the one that the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas is expected to bring against the state shortly.
Other factors may make the actions of Arkansas less than relevant:
- the Affordable Care Act and its provisions for birth control access,
- recent findings of the Contraceptive CHOICE Project that given knowledge and affordability, two-thirds of women choose more effective and longer-lasting contraceptive options, and
- the use of five-day emergency contraception (Plan B), which protects approximately 15 million American women against unwanted pregnancy each year.
"Barefoot and pregnant"? We'll see.
Based in Chicago, Sandy Dechert has been covering women's health for Examiner.com since the webzine's official startup. She followed the creation and progress of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Sandy has also reported on birth control, the 2012-2013 influenza epidemic, top women's health news of 2012, and the fungal meningitis outbreaks.
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