Rick McFarland / The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. –A federal judge on Tuesday blocked an Arkansas law banning nearly all abortions in the state as she hears a challenge to its constitutionality.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of the law, which was due to go into effect on July 28. The measure was passed this year by the Republican majority legislature and signed by GOP Governor Asa Hutchinson.
The ban allows the procedure to save the mother’s life in a medical emergency and does not provide exceptions for those steeped in rape or incest.
Baker called the law “categorically unconstitutional” because it would prohibit the procedure before the fetus is considered viable.
“Given that the record at this stage of the proceedings indicates that women seeking abortions in Arkansas face an imminent threat to their constitutional rights, the court concludes that they will suffer irreparable harm without injunction,” he said. she writes.
The United States Supreme Court agreed in May to take up a case to determine whether states can ban abortions before a fetus can survive outside the womb, a showdown that could significantly altering nearly 50 years of procedural rulings.
The case, which involves a Mississippi law banning abortion 15 weeks after a woman’s pregnancy begins, will likely be debated in the fall, with a decision likely in the spring of 2022.
Republican lawmakers in Arkansas and several other states, encouraged by former President Donald Trump’s appointments to the High Court, enacted new abortion bans even before this case was announced. A South Carolina law passed this year that bans abortions six weeks after a woman’s pregnancy begins has been temporarily blocked due to a court challenge.
The bans were pushed by Republicans who want to force the US Supreme Court to reconsider its Roe v. Wade of 1973 legalizing abortion nationwide.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, which had challenged the outright ban, hailed Baker’s decision. The groups are suing on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning Services, a Little Rock abortion clinic and Planned Parenthood’s Little Rock Health Center. The groups also represent a doctor who works at the Planned Parenthood Clinic.
“We are relieved that the court has blocked yet another cruel and damaging attempt to criminalize abortion care and interfere with the Arkansans’ deeply personal medical decisions,” said the executive director of the ACLU. Arkansas, Holly Dickson, in a statement.
Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said Baker’s decision “demonstrates that the court fully understands the damaging and immediate effects this law would have on the Arkansans.”
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican whose office had defended the law, was disappointed with Baker’s decision, a spokeswoman said.
“She will review it to consider the next appropriate step to protect the life of the unborn child,” spokeswoman Stephanie Sharp said in an email.
Arkansas adopted 20 abortion restrictions this year, the most in a single state since Louisiana adopted so many restrictions in 1978, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports reproductive rights.
Arkansas already had some of the toughest abortion measures in the country and two years ago Hutchinson enacted a measure that would ban the procedure if the Roe decision was overturned. Another measure signed by Hutchinson in 2019 banning abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy is on hold due to a legal challenge.
Hutchinson said on Tuesday night that he hoped the Arkansas near-total ban case would eventually go to the United States Supreme Court.
“This legislation had the dual purpose of protecting the Arkansas Supreme Court’s long-standing abortion precedent,” he said in a statement. “I hope the Supreme Court will finally accept this case for consideration”