House tables ‘Heartbeat’ bill limiting abortions

story from Talk Business, and contributor Jason Tolbert

On Tuesday (Feb. 5) the House Public Health Committee put the brakes on Sen. Jason Rapert’s so called “Heartbeat Bill” when the committee tabled the bill during the meeting.

Committee Chairman John Burris, R-Harrison, moved to have the bill — Senate Bill 134 – tabled and his motion was approved by the committee. Rapert, a Republican from Conway, requested a special order of business, but Burris said the details of when to do this needed to be worked out.

Rapert’s bill would prohibit an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Some House members in leadership roles have expressed concerned about the bill being able to withstand a court challenge.  The bill goes much further than a proposed “fetal pain bill,” which bans abortions at the point in which the unborn baby can experience pain – around 20 weeks. The Heartbeat Bill bans abortions when a heartbeat can be detected, which may be as early as 6 weeks.

The fetal pain bill chips slightly back at the viability standard set in the U.S. Supreme Court 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld state restrictions around 23 weeks. Some have said it is reasonable that a ban at 20 weeks could be upheld by the courts within its existing legal framework.

However, the Heartbeat Bill would challenge existing court precedents and could only be upheld if the Supreme Court were to reverse or at least re-visit its previous decisions in Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions.

The Ohio Legislature considered a similar ban, but backed off because of the same legal concerns expressed by some in Arkansas. In Ohio, the House passed the bill before the Republican dominated Senate tabled the measure. Several other states are considering the bill, including North Dakota and Mississippi.

Since Arkansas would be the first in the United States to pass the law, it would be the prime target of legal action from abortion rights groups across the country. This means that the law needs to be crafted as carefully as possible.

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Burris said a second look at the legal issues is the reason for the bill to be tabled. He expects the bill will be brought back up with an amendment that will improve the bill.

Sources told Talk Business that an amendment will primarily have to do with the manner in which the heartbeat is detected, making the procedure less invasion. This likely will also move the ban to around 12 weeks instead of 6 weeks. In short, the bill will return with supporters believe could be a better chance of withstanding a lawsuit that is likely to come from the abortion rights groups.

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