LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - The Republican-controlled Arkansas Senate voted on Tuesday to override a veto by the state's Democratic governor of a bill that would ban most abortions in the state after 12 weeks of pregnancy, the most severe restriction in the nation.
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Senators voted 20-14 to override Governor Mike Beebe's veto. In Arkansas, lawmakers can override a veto by a simple majority vote. The measure would become law if the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives also votes to override the veto.
Even though the House had voted 68-20 to pass the measure, it was not clear on Tuesday if it would have sufficient votes to override the veto.
The Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act would ban most abortions after about 12 weeks of pregnancy, once a fetal heartbeat can be detected by a standard ultrasound. It includes exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and major fetal conditions. Doctors who violate the prohibition would have their licenses revoked by the state Medical Board.
Under a law that took effect on February 28, Arkansas bans most abortions after 20 weeks. State lawmakers overrode a Beebe veto to enact the 20-week ban. The 12-week ban, if enacted, would be the toughest in the country.
Beebe said in his veto letter on Monday that the 12-week ban measure "blatantly contradicts" the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court, and questioned the potential cost to taxpayers of defending it against legal challenges.
The ACLU of Arkansas is expected to challenge the 12-week ban in court if it becomes law.
"Our endeavors to overturn it in court will be swift and certain," the director of the ACLU of Arkansas, Rita Sklar, said.
(Reporting By Suzi Parker; Writing by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)