Judge temporarily blocks Arkansas ban on most abortions

Pregnancy Test Credit Flickr Ernesto Andrade  CNA Pregnancy Test. | Flickr/Ernesto Andrade.

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked an Arkansas law banning almost all abortions, while the court considers whether it is constitutional.

US District Judge Kristine Baker issued a preliminary injunction against the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act July 20. The law, adopted March 9, was to have taken effect July 28.

The law bans abortions except when medically necessary to save the life of the mother.

It provides for an “unclassified felony” for anyone who performs an abortion in the state except in a medical emergency, with a fine of up to $100,000, ten years in prison, or both. The law does not carry charges or convictions for mothers of unlawfully aborted children.

Baker said the law is “categorically unconstitutional” and that “since 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 injunctive relief.”

Catherine Phillips, Respect Life Director for the Diocese of Little Rock, noted that the diocese has supported the legislation, and Bishop Anthony Taylor released a statement supporting it earlier this year.

When the law was adopted, Phillips told CNA that the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act, SB6, helps move the state in a pro-life direction by protecting the rights of innocent, unborn babies.

She also noted that the law has received attention for its lack of exception for rape and incest. “Women or children who are victims of these deplorable and violent acts must be given compassionate care and support,” she said, while adding that “it is a grave moral evil to kill the child” who was conceived as a result.

The state has already passed a law outlawing abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, a so-called “trigger ban” that has also been adopted by several other states. Arkansas also already has a 20-week abortion ban, enacted in 2013, which has yet to be challenged in court.

The office of Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said in a statement that the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act has the explicit goal of challenging Roe v. Wade.

“SB6 is in contradiction of binding precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law,” the statement read.

“I would have preferred the legislation to include the exceptions for rape and incest, which has been my consistent view, and such exceptions would increase the chances for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Courts have struck down similar laws in other states in recent years. A similar measure in Alabama was struck down by a federal district court during October 2019.

A federal appeals court upheld certain Arkansas state abortion restrictions during August 2020. The Eighth Circuit court briefly allowed a 2017 state law to go into effect, which banned sex-selective abortions and dilation and evacuation abortions.

However, in January 2021, the same Eighth Circuit upheld or imposed injunctions on several pro-life laws in the state, including the sex-selective abortion law and the dilation and evacuation abortion ban.

A law banning abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape, incest, and medical emergency was blocked, as well as another that would have prohibited abortions based solely on a Down syndrome diagnosis for the baby.

Those regulations had been set to go into effect July 2019 before injunctions blocked them.

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On Jan. 7, Baker issued a preliminary injunction against the ban on abortions based solely on the sex of the baby, including requirements that doctors seek the medical records of any woman seeking an abortion who knows the sex of her unborn child.

Another of the enjoined laws regulates the preservation and disposal of tissue from aborted babies, while another requires doctors performing abortions on patients under 16 years old to inform police of the situation.

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