Federal court allows Arkansas abortion laws to take effect

Pregnant woman looking at ultrasound Credit Emituu  Shutterstock Emituu / Shutterstock.

A federal court has declined to reconsider an August decision allowing several abortion restrictions in Arkansas to take effect.

A district judge had previously blocked the laws - which the state passed in mid-2017 - following a legal challenge from the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of a local abortion doctor.

The laws include a ban on abortions based solely on the sex of the baby, and two regulations on the preservation and disposal of tissue from aborted babies, as well as legislation prohibiting a second-trimester abortion method known as "dilation and evacuation," by which an unborn baby is dismembered. The laws also require doctors performing abortions on patients under 14 years old to notify police where the patient resides.

In August 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled to reinstate the Arkansas laws. On Dec. 16, the court announced that it will not reconsider the decision to lift the district judge's injunction.

The laws could take effect as soon as Dec. 22 because of the court's decision not to reconsider, the AP reported.

The appeals court had said the district judge should re-examine the case in light of the Supreme Court's ruling earlier this summer in June Medical Services v. Russo.

While that decision struck down a law regulating abortion clinics in Louisiana, the appeals court said Chief Justice John Robert's concurrence in the case may be relevant to the Arkansas legislation in question. Roberts said states have "wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty."

Arkansas currently has a 20-week abortion ban, enacted in 2013, which has yet to be challenged in court.

In April, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, a federal appeals court allowed a state order halting elective surgical abortions to go into effect in Arkansas. The state lifted those restrictions in May.

Governor Asa Hutchison in February 2019 signed a "trigger law" which would ban most abortions in the event the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized abortion as a constitutional right in the United States. Alabama is one of several states with a trigger law on abortion.

During November 2020, State Sen. Jason Rapert (R) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R) introduced Senate Bill 6, to create the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill criminalizes abortions except when done to save the life of the mother.

The bill does not carry charges or convictions for mothers of unlawfully aborted children. Doctors who perform an unlawful abortion would commit a felony punishable by a fine of up to $100,000, or up to ten years in prison.

Though Senate Bill 6 is not expected to survive in court-a federal district court struck down a similar measure in Alabama during Oct. 2019- the bill is set to be considered during the legislature's January session.

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