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Arkansas House approves tightening abortion ban to 18 weeks

February 25, 2019 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas House on Monday approved a proposal to ban abortion 18 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy, moving the state closer toward enacting what could be the strictest prohibition in the country.

Without any debate, the majority-Republican House approved the ban by a 77-13 vote. Arkansas already has some of the strictest abortion limits in the country and bans the procedure 20 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. The bill advanced Monday includes an exemption for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest. The 18-week ban now heads to the majority-Republican Senate.

“We’re pulling it back two weeks,” Republican Rep. Robin Lundstrum told lawmakers before the vote.

Arkansas’ Republican governor last week signed into law another measure that would ban abortion in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing the procedure nationwide. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has not said whether he’d sign the 18-week ban if it reaches his desk.

Abortion rights supporters said they’d fight the measure, which they called an effort to challenge Roe v. Wade.

″(The bill) does nothing to improve patient health and safety, and leading medical groups agree that it is dangerous for lawmakers to prioritize scoring political points over a woman’s need for expert medical care,” said Gloria Pedro, Arkansas lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes. “Instead of creating more barriers, lawmakers should be making it easier for women to seek timely, safe health care throughout their pregnancy.”

Other states have enacted measures that ban abortion earlier than Arkansas’ proposed 18-week ban, but those restrictions have been blocked by courts. Mississippi and Louisiana last year both enacted measures banning abortions at 15 weeks. Mississippi’s ban has been blocked by a federal judge. Louisiana’s ban will only take effect if Mississippi’s law is upheld. Iowa’s governor last week said she wouldn’t appeal a judge’s ruling striking down a state law banning abortions at six weeks. Limits earlier than the one advanced Monday in Arkansas have also been proposed in several other states.

Arkansas lawmakers in 2013 approved a measure banning abortions at 12 weeks, but that prohibition was later struck down by federal courts. The state’s 20-week ban was also enacted in 2013 and has not been challenged in court, though similar prohibitions in two other states have been struck down.

Other abortion restrictions are pending in the Legislature, including a measure that would extend the waiting period before having the procedure from 48 hours to 72 hours. Another measure would prohibit doctors from performing abortions because of a Down syndrome diagnosis.

The measure passed on a mostly party-line vote, with two Democrats joining 75 Republicans to back the ban. No Republicans voted against the ban.

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