Arkansas bill would outlaw one in 10 abortions

March 5, 2013

The Arkansas legislature has the votes to override a governor's veto, and become the first state to ban abortions after as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy.

This comes after the state passed a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy a mere five days ago, also overriding a veto from Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe

While the two take a similar approach to regulating abortion, a ban on abortions past 12 weeks of pregnancy would have a much more significant impact on the state, making one of every 10 abortions in Arkansas illegal.

The vast majority of abortions — 91.7 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — happen early in the pregnancy, prior to 13 weeks gestation. That still leaves about 10 percent of abortions occurring after the first trimester, the time period that this Arkansas law would outlaw.

In Arkansas, the most recent CDC data shows that no abortions happened after 20 weeks. But there were 552 abortions performed after 14 weeks gestation. That works out to more than one of every 10 abortions performed in the state.

Since the CDC data includes a one-week range of from nine to 13, it's hard to know how many of those would also be effected by a law like this one.

The legal challenges to bans set at 20 and 12 weeks are likely similar: Roe v. Wade only allows for full abortion bans after viability, which is generally thought to be somewhere around 22 to 24 weeks. By banning abortion at an early stage in the pregnancy, the argument goes, these laws violate Roe's protections. This is the argument of a lawsuit that the ACLU has brought against Arizona's ban on abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The legal implications are similar, but the practical effects are quite different. A 20-week ban would have little effect in Arkansas, a state where no such later-term abortions occurred in 2009. Bringing that ban forward to 12 weeks, however, would hugely increase the scope of abortion cases effected.

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Sarah Kliff · March 5, 2013