Arkansas Senate rejects push for Texas-styled abortion ban

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' majority-Republican Senate rejected a push Tuesday for an abortion ban modeled after Texas' restrictive law, with abortion opponents divided about emulating their neighbor's approach as they await a key ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Senate rejected resolutions that would have allowed lawmakers to take up legislation banning abortion except to save the life of a mother in a medical emergency. Like Texas' ban, the measure would be enforced by private citizens filing lawsuits.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has signed several major abortion restrictions since taking office in 2015, has said lawmakers should wait and see how the Supreme Court rules on a 15-week ban in Mississippi. Justices have signaled that ruling, expected later this year, could overturn or weaken the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

But supporters of the ban said there's no guarantee of that, and said Texas' approach offers a new path for the state to prevent women from getting abortions while the high court considers that case.

“No one knows what the Supreme Court will decide, they don’t know what that decision will be in June," Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield told lawmakers before the vote.

Arkansas already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country. The state last year enacted 20 abortion restrictions, the most in the country and tied with Louisiana’s 1978 record for the most in a single year, according to the Guttmacher Institute. One of those measures, banning nearly all abortions, has been blocked by a federal judge.

Sen. Jim Hendren, an independent who has backed other abortion restrictions but voted against the resolutions Tuesday, noted the disagreement among abortion opponents about taking up the Texas-style ban now. The head of the Arkansas Family Council, a conservative group that has lobbied for other bans, has spoken against the proposals over concerns about the impact it could have on other bans in Arkansas.

“There's a lot of division about the best approach and to try to undertake that in the middle of a fiscal session that's not even designed to have that type of debate, I think you saw from membership that most people don't think that's a good idea," Hendren, who is Hutchinson's nephew, said.

The resolutions both failed on 12-16 votes, falling far short of the 24 votes needed in the 35-member Senate. The abortion bans need support of two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature to be considered during the fiscal session, which is intended to focus on the state’s budget.

The votes marked the second day in a row the proposed bans faced a setback in the Legislature, which began its session on Monday. Efforts to take up similar proposals failed before a House panel a day earlier.

The ban could still come back up, with similar proposals still pending in the Senate and House. Arkansas is among several states where lawmakers have proposed bans modeled after Texas' law.

“We will be voting again on this issue," Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, who sponsored similar measures, told reporters after the vote.