LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A proposal banning most abortions in Arkansas at 20 weeks into a pregnancy was advanced to the Senate floor Wednesday over the objections of opponents who say it would require mothers to deliver babies with fatal conditions and doesn't cover enough health conditions.
The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee approved the abortion restriction by a voice vote after amending the bill to add exemptions for rape and incest. The measure already included exemptions for the life of the mother and heads to a Republican-led Senate that already has approved a stricter abortion ban.
Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, agreed to add the rape and incest exemptions after facing resistance from Democrats on the panel. The eight-person committee is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The House approved the ban last week.
"We have a compelling state interest to protect the lives of these children who deserve the same opportunities you and I have enjoyed," Mayberry told the panel.
The legislation is based on the disputed notion that fetuses can feel pain 20 weeks into a pregnancy, and is similar to bans approved in several other states.
Dr. Janet Cathey, a Little Rock obstetrician, said the legislation would force many women to deliver babies with lethal anomalies.
"These are not selfish women who have decided to terminate a pregnancy for their convenience," Cathey told lawmakers. "These are women who are brokenhearted. These are women who felt the pain and suffering for their child would be less if they decided to not continue the pregnancy."
The proposal is among several new abortion restrictions gaining traction in Arkansas after Republicans won control of the House and Senate. Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, this week signed into law legislation banning abortion coverage in most cases in the health insurance exchange created under the federal health care law.
Beebe has said he's concerned about the constitutionality of Mayberry's bill and another proposal pending before a House committee that would ban most abortions at 12 weeks of pregnancy. Supporters of the 12-week ban are amending their legislation to include exemptions for lethal fetal disorders and for medical emergencies.
The governor has not said whether he'll veto either one if they reach his desk.
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo