8th Circuit Strikes Down Arkansas Abortion Law

     ST. LOUIS (CN) – The 8th Circuit on Wednesday struck down an Arkansas abortion ban that would have been among the strictest in the country.
     The Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act would have banned abortions after 12 weeks or if there was a fetus’ heartbeat was before 12 weeks.
     Furthermore, the law would have required doctors to determine whether the fetus had a heartbeat before providing an abortion. It did contain exceptions in cases of incest, rape and medical emergencies.
     The law, passed in 2013, was vetoed by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe but became law two days later after both houses overrode the veto.
     A lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arkansas challenged the law in 2013. The pro-choice groups claimed the law violated Supreme Court precedent, which holds that states cannot ban abortions before a fetus’ viability.
     In 2014, an Arkansas federal judge sided with Supreme Court precedent and struck down the law.
     Arkansas appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that the viability standard cannot be the end of the discussion when weighed against the state’s interest in protecting human life.
     In a per curiam opinion released Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit affirmed the federal judge’s ruling.
     “By banning abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation, the act prohibits women from making the ultimate decision to terminate a pregnancy at a point before viability,” the court wrote. “Because the state made no attempt to refute the plaintiffs’ assertions of fact, the district court’s summary judgment order must be affirmed.”
     The court did acknowledge that medical advances since Roe v. Wade – the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision holding that privacy and due-process rights extend to a woman’s decision to have an abortion – have moved fetus viability closer to conception, but found that “viability determination necessarily calls for a case-by-case determination and changes over time based on medical advancements” and that legislatures are better suited to make judgments in this area.
     The ruling was applauded by pro-choice advocates.
     “Today’s ruling affirms that safely and legally ending a pregnancy remains a protected constitutional right in this country,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.
     “Women should not have to run to court in state after state, year after year to protect their constitutional rights from these politically motivated attacks. The Constitution and the courts are clear: A woman’s right to decide for herself whether to continue or safely and legally end a pregnancy does not change depending on what state she happens to live in.”
     Circuit Judges Lavenski R. Smith, Duane Benton and Bobby E. Shepherd comprised the three-judge panel.

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