Ark. lawmaker changing 'heartbeat' abortion bill


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas senator proposing to ban most abortions in Arkansas said Tuesday he's amending his bill to prohibit the procedure if a fetal heartbeat is detected using an abdominal ultrasound, a move that would ease the restriction by several weeks into a pregnancy.

Sen. Jason Rapert said he planned to change the legislation to address concerns raised by other lawmakers after a House panel voted to delay consideration of the proposed ban. The Senate passed the abortion ban last week.

Rapert's original proposal would have banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, and opponents have said the only way to detect a heartbeat at that point is by using a vaginal probe. Rapert said requiring an abdominal ultrasound would ban the procedure as early as 10 to 12 weeks into a pregnancy. The proposal would still include an exemption for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

"We would protect a child when there is a detectible heartbeat with an abdominal ultrasound," Rapert, R-Conway, told reporters.

Rapert's original proposal won easy approval in the Senate, and is one of several new abortion restrictions being considered after Republicans won control of the House and Senate in last year's election. But Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and Republican House Speaker Davy Carter have raised concerns about the constitutionality of Rapert's measure.

A spokesman for Beebe, who has not said whether he opposes Rapert's bill, said the governor would look at the amendment as he reviews whether the "heartbeat" bill is constitutional.

Rapert announced the change hours after the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee tabled his bill for later discussion. Rep. John Burris, the panel's chairman, said the legislation was tabled over various concerns about the proposed restriction.

"I'll need to read it, but the concepts I think are much more in the field of where it needs to be," Burris, R-Harrison, told reporters.

Burris said he believes the changes likely won't address complaints that the legislation would invite lawsuits. Opponents have said Rapert's proposal runs afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

Burris said, however, he's not worried about the threat of lawsuits.

"The threat of litigation is not a reason to not pass a bill," Burris said.

Rapert said he's confident the measure will be approved by the House panel. Democrats control 11 of the 20 seats on the committee.

"I think it'll be a better bill and I think it's still good because it's still better than the situation we have now," Rapert said.

The changes to Rapert's legislation come a day after the House approved two other abortion restrictions. One would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and the other would prohibit insurers participating in the exchange created under the federal health care law from covering abortions. Both are now pending before a Senate committee.

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