LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The Arkansas Senate on Monday approved a measure banning most abortions 18 weeks into a pregnancy, moving the state closer toward enacting one of the strictest prohibitions in the country.
The Senate approved the House-backed measure by 28-6. It was amended last week to add exemptions for rape and incest. The proposal faces one last vote in the House before heading to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk. A spokesman says Hutchinson supports the measure.
Arkansas already bans most abortions 20 weeks into a woman's pregnancy. The proposal could be the country's strictest abortion ban if enacted, though bills banning abortions earlier are advancing in several other state legislatures.
"This is a significant bill because it does push the envelope further in the protection of unborn children," Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, who co-sponsored the measure, said after the vote.
The measure is among several abortion restrictions working their way through the majority-Republican Legislature.
Hutchinson last month signed into law a bill that would ban most abortions in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing the procedure nationwide.
Other restrictions include a measure the Senate approved last month requiring doctors to give women undergoing drug-induced abortions written notice that the procedure can be halted after the first of the two pills are taken — a claim that medical groups say isn't backed up by science.
Other states have enacted measures that ban abortion earlier than Arkansas' proposed 18-week ban, but those restrictions have been blocked by courts.
Arkansas lawmakers in 2013 approved a measure banning abortions at 12 weeks, but that prohibition was later struck down by federal courts. The state's 20-week ban was also enacted in 2013 and has not been challenged in court, though similar prohibitions in two other states have been struck down. A similar 18-week ban is being considered in Utah.
An attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which has challenged other abortion restrictions in the state, said it was prepared to challenge the 18-week ban if it becomes law.
"It's ultimately about driving legal abortion from the state and making women once again — as it was before Roe v Wade — subject themselves to unsafe and dangerous efforts to end their pregnancy," attorney Bettina Brownstein said.
Three Democrats joined 25 Republicans to vote for the ban, with the chamber's other six Democrats voting against the bill.
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo