Governor Mike Beebe vetoed Senate Bill 134 Monday afternoon, his office said. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) would limit abortions in some instances to as soon as 12 weeks. Known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, to describe that an abortion could not be undertaken if a heartbeat were detected, did provide for some exceptions, such as rape, incest and the mother’s health.
Beebe cited the same legal reasoning for the veto cited in his veto of House Bill 1037, a 20-week abortion ban sponsored by Rep. Andy Mayberry (R-Hensley). Arkansas lawmakers overrode that veto last week.
Today’s veto letter included the following section:
In short, because it would impose a ban on a woman’s right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion well before viability, Senate Bill 134 blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. When I was sworn in as Governor I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. I take that oath seriously.
The adoption of blatantly unconstitutional laws can be very costly to the taxpayers of our State. It has been suggested that outside groups might represent the State for free in any litigation challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 134, but even if that were to happen, that would only lessen the State’s own litigation costs. 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. In the last case in which the constitutionality of an Arkansas abortion statute was challenged, Little Rock Family Planning Services v. Jegley, the State was ordered to pay the prevailing plaintiffs and their attorneys nearly $119,000 for work in the trial court, and an additional $28,900 for work on the State’s unsuccessful appeal. Those fee awards were entered in 1999, and litigation fees and costs have increased extensively since then. The taxpayers’ exposure, should Senate Bill 134 become law, will likely be significantly greater.
Lawmakers are expected to attempt to override the veto.