LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Senate on Monday approved a measure banning nearly all abortions in the state, despite objections to the ban not including exceptions for rape or incest.
The majority-Republican Senate approved the ban on a 27-7 vote, sending the measure to the majority-GOP House. Arkansas is one of 13 states where outright abortion bans have been proposed this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
The bans are being pushed by Republicans, encouraged by former President Donald Trump's appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, who say it's time to test where the high court stands on overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
"Arkansas is asking and pleading that the U.S. Supreme Court take a look at this and make a decision that once again allows the states to protect human life," Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, the bill's sponsor, said before the vote.
The bill advanced days after South Carolina's governor signed into law a measure banning most abortions. Planned Parenthood immediately sued challenging the measure.
Arkansas' bill only excludes abortions to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency, and supporters of the measure rejected calls from supporters of past anti-abortion restrictions to include rape or incest.
"In this bill, we're going to tell a 12-year-old rape victim that because we believe so strongly in the right to life, she's going to have to carry that baby to term regardless of the consequences it does to her or her family or her life," Sen. Jim Hendren, who left the Republican Party last week, said. Hendren effectively abstained from voting on the measure, casting a "present" vote rather than voting yes or no.
Republican Sen. Missy Irvin said the legislation was "disenfranchising people that are pro-life that believe rape and incest should be a part of this bill because their loved ones were raped." Irvin, however, ultimately voted for the measure.
The bill passed on mostly party lines, with Sen. Larry Teague the only Democrat voting for it and Senate President Jimmy Hickey the only Republican opposing it.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has also said he has concerns about the bill, citing a letter written by the attorney for National Right to Life that said the chances of the legislation leading to overturning Roe v Wade were "very small and remote." National Right to Life has not taken a position on the bill, though its state affiliate supports the measure.
Hutchinson on Monday stopped short of saying whether he supports the bill, but said he backs exceptions for rape and incest.
"It makes sense to add the exceptions because if you are going to do a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, then it is important to have exceptions that the public generally supports," he said in a statement.
Abortion rights supporters said they're prepared to challenge Arkansas' measure if it becomes law. Democratic opponents warned it could lead to women pursuing more dangerous methods to end their pregnancies.
"It's bad enough, but it's far worse if you won't put the (rape and incest exceptions) on the bill," Democratic Sen. Joyce Elliott said.