Gov. Mike Beebe

Gov. Mike Beebe Tuesday afternoon said he will veto House Bill 1037, a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. In his veto letter, Beebe said he is vetoing the bill because “it would impose a ban on a woman’s right to choose an elective nontherapeutic abortion before viability…” and if it became law it would “squarely contradict Supreme Court precedent.”

“When I was sworn in as Governor I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States,” Beebe wrote. “I take that oath seriously.

“Second, the adoption of unconstitutional laws can be very costly to the taxpayers of our State,” Beebe continued. “It has been suggested that outside groups or others might represent the State for free in any litigation challenging the constitutionality of House Bill 1037, but even if that were to happen, that would only lessen the State’s own litigation costs. Lawsuits challenging unconstitutional laws also result in the losing party – in this case, the State – having to pay the costs and attorneys’ fees incurred by the litigants who successfully challenge the law. Those costs and fees can be significant. In the last case in which the constitutionality of an Arkansas abortion statute was challenged, Little Rock Family Planning Services v. Jegley, the State was ordered to pay the prevailing plaintiffs and their attorneys nearly $119,000 for work in the trial court, and an additional $28,900 for work on the State’s unsuccessful appeal. Those fee awards were entered in 1999, and litigation fees and costs have increased extensively since then. The taxpayers’ exposure, should HB 1037 become law, will be significantly greater.

While I must therefore veto HB 1037, I wish to express my appreciation to its principal sponsor, Representative Mayberry, for his candor and for his respect for the Governor’s role in the legislative process.”

The bill passed the House 80-10. The Senate vote was 25-7.

Overriding a gubernatorial veto takes a simple majority vote.