by Max Brantley
House Public Health Committee Chairman John Burris today moved for tabling of Sen. Jason Rapert's bill to prohibit abortions when a fetal heart beat is detected. The motion to table was approved on a voice vote. The bill would effectively prohibit abortions later than 5-6 weeks in a pregnancy and require virtually all women seeking abortions in the first 8-10 weeks of pregnancy to undergo an invasive transvaginal probe to see whether a heartbeat could be detected.
Burris said he'd prefer to set the matter for a special order of business later, so that all committee members could be present. Rapert asked whether a delay required a tabling motion.
A majority vote of a committee quorum is required to take a bill off the table, I believe. That could present a small complication for committee reconsideration because a "no" vote couldn't technically be called a vote against the bill. (Substantively, it would be.) There's some sentiment, even reportedly among a few of the reflexively anti-woman Republicans, that Rapert's bill is an overreach in the context of four decades of federal court application of Roe v. Wade. That ruling prohibits state bans on abortion before viability of the fetus.
This bill is a guaranteed loser in court and thus a waste of state money. Doesn't mean the Public Health Committee won't in the next few days vote to bring it up for consideration and pass it. The law on women's rights is held in low repute in Arkansas these days.
Meanwhile, Rapert has issued a lengthy statement about how unfairly he's been treated on account of the circulation of a speech he made to Tea Partyers in which he dog-whistled to that group's inherent hatred of Barack Obama and of religious and sexual minorities and to their xenophobia. His statement does at least finally admit the staggering breadth of his anti-abortion proposal. Like Rapert, I urge you to watch the entirety of his remarks and tell me it isn't the quintessence of a nativist demagogue at work. You can find links to the complete batch of videos here at a pro-Rapert website.
UPDATE: Developments. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said he had "concerns" about the legislation but stopped short of saying he couldn't defend the law if it passed. That's similar to Gov. Mike Beebe's earlier comments. Also, conservative commentators and at least one diehard anti-abortion legislator expressed unhappiness at Burris' motion to table the bill today. Radio commentator Dave Elswick said what's the big deal. There are lots of constitutionally suspect bills introduced! No s***. Complicated politics are clearly at play here, and they range beyond abortion to Rapert's sponsorship of Beebe's bill to end the sales tax on food and his hope of bringing some Republicans around to Medicaid expansion. All the pieces don't fit yet, but today's happenings would indicate tension on the Rapert bill, including within the Republican ranks. The 20-week abortion limit is heading to the governor. A six-week limit is looking more problematic.