LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe on Monday vetoed legislation that would prohibit most abortions after 12 weeks.
The governor, in his veto letter, said Senate Bill 134 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, "would blatantly violate the United State Constitution" if it became law.
Also Monday, the Senate passed a bill to require insurance companies to reimburse physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech pathologists at the same level as physicians, and the House passed a bill to allow retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed handguns.
After the veto, Rapert said he planned to ask the Legislature to override it. He said he hopes to have the bill on the Senate calendar for an override vote on Tuesday and in the House soon afterward.
"It’s not a surprise," Rapert said of the veto. "Given the opportunity to save lives, this governor has always chosen in this session to say no."
Beebe told reporters Monday, "Under current law, it’s unconstitutional. … I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. I swore to uphold the constitution, and that’s what I’m doing."
Last week, the governor vetoed House Bill 1307 by Rep. Andy Mayberry , R-Hensley, which bans most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The House and Senate both overrode the veto and the measure is now Act 171.
In his veto letter to the Legislature, Beebe said Monday that SB 134, if enacted, would be the strictest prohibition on abortions in the nation.
The bill would prohibit a woman from having an abortion 12 weeks or later into a pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is detected using an abdominal ultrasound, a test that would be mandatory for a woman seeking an abortion that far into a pregnancy. The measure includes exceptions in cases of rape, incest, medical emergencies or fetal anomalies that would not allow the child to live after birth.
A violation of the measure would cost a doctor his or her medical license.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said that states cannot prohibit abortions before a fetus becomes viable, or able to live outside the womb. Doctors generally consider a fetus to be viable at 23 or 24 weeks.
Along with questioning the bill’s constitutionality, Beebe said he expected costly legal challenges.
"In short, because it would impose a ban on a woman’s right to choose an elective, non-therapeutic abortion well before viability, (SB 134) blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court," he said in the letter.
"It has been suggested that outside groups might represent the state for free in any litigation challenging the constitutionality of (SB 134), but even if that were to happen, that would only lessen the state’s own litigation costs," Beebe continued. "Lawsuits challenging unconstitutional laws also result in the losing party — in this case, the state — being ordered to pay the costs and attorneys’ fees incurred by the litigants who successfully challenge the law. Those costs and fees can be significant."
He said that in 1999 a state abortion statute was challenged by Little Rock Family Planning Services. The state was ordered to pay the prevailing plaintiffs and their attorneys nearly $119,999 for work in the trial court, and an additional $28,900 for work in the state’s unsuccessful appeal.
SB 134 was approved 68-20 in the House and 26-8 in the Senate.
Rapert said he expects the Legislature to override the governor’s veto.
"I have faith the 70 percent of the Legislature that voted to pass the bill will be there to override this veto," he said.
Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, said he would vote against overriding the governor’s vote, despite originally voting for SB 134.
He said he supports "pro-life" legislation but has concerns about the expensive legal costs should it be challenged.
Rapert downplayed the governor’s argument that it would be expensive for the state if the bill is challenged in court.
"That’s a very weak reason not to protect the lives of unborn children," he said.
The Senate on Monday approved:
— SB 277 by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, which would require insurance companies to pay reimbursement to physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech pathologists that is comparable to the reimbursement they pay to physicians. The bill passed 34-0 and goes to the House.
— HB 1192 by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, which would limit the power of eminent domain for Property Owner Improvement Districts. The measure passed 35-0 and goes to the governor.
— HB 1359 by Rep. Brent Talley, D-Hope, which would allow certain state crime laboratory reports and evidence analysis, such as autopsies, drug analysis and evidence analysis to be used as evidence in civil proceedings as well as criminal proceedings. The bill passed 35-0 and goes to the governor.
— HB 1362 by Talley which would allow for death records in cases that are not criminal in nature to become available to to the dead person’s next of kin, including parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses, adult children or legal guardians directly through the state crime laboratory. The bill passed 35-0 and goes to the governor.
The House on Monday approved and sent to the Senate:
—HB 1417 by Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, which would allow a retired law enforcement officer to carry a concealed handgun without having to apply for or renew a concealed-carry permit. The bill passed 94-0.
—HB 1267 by Rep. Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock, which would require that if a health insurance company denies a patient coverage for an experimental or investigational product, the company must allow a surgeon to present medical evidence supporting use of the product for the patient. The bill passed 94-0.
—HB 1459 by Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, which would allow a person to use an electronic device to show proof of a hunter education certificate. The bill passed 97-0.
—HB 1410 by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, which would allow sign language to be taught in public schools as a foreign language. The bill passed 91-0.
—HB 1475 by Rep. Donda Hawthorne, D-Ashdown, which would create a special motorcycle license plate for disabled veterans. Linck spoke against the bill, saying the state already has more than 260 special license plates and asking, "When are we going to stop this?" The bill passed 77-3.
—HB 1310 by Rep. Kelley Linck, R-Yellville, which would allow school districts that have been consolidated to sell, preserve, lease or donate the use of real property that they are no longer using. The bill passed 92-4.
—HB 1450 by Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, which would add displaying a firearm and strangulation or smothering to the list of offenses that can result in a charge of aggravated assault on a family or household member. The bill passed 91-0.