LITTLE ROCK — Legislation that would ban abortions at 12 weeks if a fetal heartbeat can be detected failed to get a House committee’s endorsement Thursday.
The vote for an amended version of Senate Bill 134, titled The Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, was 10-6 in the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. It needed 11 votes for approval by the 20-member panel.
Some on the committee who previously supported the bill were not present Thursday and one, Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, voted against the amended version.
Rep. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, who presented the bill in the House committee for sponsoring Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said she planned to bring it back for another vote.
"I think it has … 12 supporters. We’ve just got to have them here for a vote," she said.
As originally written, the measure would have required any woman seeking an abortion to undergo a test for a fetal heartbeat and would have prohibited the abortion if a heartbeat is detected.
The bill passed in that form in the Senate. It stalled in the House before amid objections that it would require women to undergo an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound and effectively would ban abortions at about six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected.
Rapert agreed to an amendment stating that the bill would not ban abortions before 12 weeks and that the heartbeat test would be conducted via external abdominal ultrasound. The bill then passed out of the committee. The bill went back to committee after Rapert developed additional amendments that he said would further strengthen support for the bill, although that support was not in evidence Thursday.
The new exemptions are for medical emergencies and for fetal disorders that likely would be fatal for the child. The bill already included exemptions to save the life of the mother or for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
The changes also removed criminal penalties for doctors. Originally, the bill would have made doctors who violate the measure subject to a Class D felony charge, punishable upon conviction by up six years in prison. It now would make the only penalty a revocation of the doctor’s license.
Harris told reporters Thursday he was concerned about the new exemption for fatal fetal anomalies and wanted to study the language.
"Only in the cases of rape, incest and the endangerment of the mother should an abortion be done," he said.
But Harris said he likely would vote for the bill when it comes back before the committee.
"A pro-lie bill is better than no pro-life bill," he said.
Rep. Kim Harris, R-Benton, was presenting a bill in another committee when the vote was taken. He said later he was undecided about the amended version of the bill.
"It removed the felony charge and it exchanged that for a revocation of license. I’d want to think about that a little more (for) a day or two before I make judgment on that aspect of it," he said.
Voting for the amendment SB 134 on Thursday were:
• Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono
• Rep. Stephanie Malone, R-Fort Smith
• Rep. Kelley Linck, R-Yellville
• Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall
• Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway
• Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley
• Rep. Betty Overbey, D-Lamar
• Rep. Chris Richey, D-Helena-West Helena
• Rep. Richard Womack, R-Arkadelphia
• Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison
Voting against the bill were:
• Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville
• Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville
• Rep. Fredrick Love, D-Little Rock
• Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork
• Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis
• Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna