LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas cannot ban abortions at 12 weeks or later into a pregnancy, a federal judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright struck down most of Act 301 of 2103, which would have banned most abortions at 12 weeks, ruling that the ban was unconstitutional.
The law, which Wright previously barred from taking effect while she reviewed it, would have required a woman seeking an abortion at 12 weeks or later into a pregnancy to receive an abdominal ultrasound to check for a fetal heartbeat and would have banned an abortion if a heartbeat was detected, except in cases of rape, incest, medical emergencies or fetal anomalies that would not allow the child to live after birth.
The judge said she based her ruling on U.S. Supreme Court rulings affirming the right of a woman to obtain an abortion before a fetus becomes viable, or able to live outside the womb.
“The Court finds as a matter of law that the 12-week abortion ban included in Act 301 prohibits pre-viability abortions and thus impermissibly infringes a woman’s 14th Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability,” Wright said in her ruling granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs.
Wright did not strike down the provision of the law requiring a check for a fetal heartbeat or a provision requiring that the mother be told if a heartbeat is detected.
“After careful consideration, the court finds that the remaining heartbeat testing and disclosure requirements are independently capable of furthering the stated purpose of Act 301, to protect unborn children,” she said in the ruling.
But Wright did strike down the provision that would ban the abortion if a heartbeat is detected, as well as provisions that would have required a doctor who performed an abortion in violation of the law to lose his or her medical license and would have required a doctor to inform the mother that an abortion was prohibited if Act 301 applied.
Wright issued the ruling in a lawsuit challenging the law that was filed last April by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of two doctors, Louis Jerry Edwards and Tom Tvedten, who provide abortions services at a Little Rock clinic.
Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said Friday that the ACLU still has concerns about the remaining provisions of the law but was grateful that the judge struck down the 12-week ban.
“This ban would have inserted politicians into the deeply personal medical decisions of Arkansas women. We’re thankful that the court took the right step in striking it down, since this dangerous ban should never have been passed in the first place,” she said.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the organization believes women are capable of weighing their reproductive choices carefully “without politicians dictating what medical procedures or information they may need,” but she praised the portion of the ruling striking down the 12-week ban.
“We hope today’s decisive ruling will at last put a stop to the efforts of extremist politicians to roll back Arkansas women’s fundamental rights,” she said.
Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, said that “given the judge’s ruling last May regarding the preliminary injunction, today’s decision was not a surprise. We are currently reviewing the decision and have not yet decided on our next steps.”
Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the law last year, saying it was unconstitutional, but legislators overrode his veto in a bipartisan vote.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Friday of the ruling, “It’s essentially what he predicted would happen, so it’s no surprise.”
Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, the sponsor of Act 301, said although he was disappointed that the 12-week ban was struck down, he believed the remaining portion of the law would reduce the number of abortions performed in the state.
“When someone has to consider that there is a living heartbeat in their womb, we have seen across the country as informed-consent provisions have come out to make sure that a woman is making a decision that they really want to make, oftentimes they will decide not to have that abortion and maybe allow an adoption proceeding to go forward so that they’re not taking the life of a human being,” he said.
Jerry Cox president of the Christian conservative Family Council, which supported the law, said the ruling was not unexpected, but he even so he believed the effort was worthwhile.
“I believe the only way we’re going to change things for the better is by challenging the status quo of abortion,” he said.
Another law that passed last year, Act 171, bans most abortions at 20 weeks or later into a pregnancy. To date that law has not been challenged in court.