By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Democratic Governor Mike Beebe on Monday vetoed legislation that would ban most abortions in Arkansas after 12 weeks of pregnancy, a restriction that would be the most severe in the nation.
The bill's supporters say they plan to seek a vote on Tuesday to override Beebe's veto, which would require only a simple majority in Arkansas.
Beebe said in a veto letter that the bill "blatantly contradicts" the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court, and he questioned the potential cost to taxpayers of defending it against legal challenges.
Under a law that took effect February 28, Arkansas bans most abortions after 20 weeks. The essential difference between that law and the legislation vetoed by Beebe on Monday is the number of weeks.
The newest legislation, the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, would ban most abortions at about 12 weeks of pregnancy, once a fetal heartbeat can be detected by a standard ultrasound. It includes exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and major fetal conditions. Doctors who violate the prohibition would have their licenses revoked by the state Medical Board.
"This would be the earliest abortion ban in the country. It would be a very severe restriction on access to abortion," said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
Nash said, "This would force women in many circumstances to go out of state."
The Arkansas bill vetoed on Monday includes a reference to a fetal heartbeat and initially targeted an abortion ban at five weeks. The bill was changed after opponents argued that it would have mandated an invasive transvaginal ultrasound.
Bills similar to the original proposal have been introduced in Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wyoming.
If Arkansas lawmakers override the veto, the ACLU of Arkansas has said it is likely to challenge the ban in court.
Seven states in addition to Arkansas have active laws banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Two other states have approved bans at 18 weeks and 20 weeks that are not active due to legal challenges.
(Editing by David Bailey and Steve Orlofsky)