Abortion Rights Groups Sue to Block Sweeping Arkansas Law

The law being challenged allows abortion when it’s necessary to save the life of the mother, but offers no exceptions for those impregnated by rape or incest.

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(CN) — Making good on a vow to block what it calls the most direct attack on women’s reproductive rights in the U.S., two abortion rights groups asked a federal judge Wednesday to invalidate sweeping new Arkansas legislation that its supporters hope will force the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

Filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the lawsuit challenges new prohibitions scheduled to take effect July 28. It comes as Republican lawmakers in at least a dozen states, emboldened by a new conservative majority on the high court, pushed through new abortion bans this year.

Although he initially expressed objections about the bill, Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson signed the legislation banning abortion in nearly every case in March.

The law allows for the procedure when necessary to save the life of the mother. However, it offers no exceptions for those impregnated by rape or incest and imposes criminal penalties on doctors for providing care, according to the lawsuit.

Meagan Burrows, a staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said the law clearly violates the U.S. Constitution and nearly five decades of binding Supreme Court precedent.

“Arkansas’ anti-abortion politicians know that Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land, but they passed this abortion ban anyway, which triggers a direct challenge to Roe,” Burrows said in a statement. “We are not going to stand by while Arkansas attempts to deny people their constitutional right to abortion care. Abortion remains legal in all 50 states, and we’ll see the state of Arkansas in court to make sure it stays that way.”

Arkansas has made a persistent effort over the last decade at rolling back abortion rights, passing some 20 restrictions during this year’s legislative session.

The Wednesday lawsuit comes just over four months after the Eighth Circuit struck down a pair of laws passed by Arkansas lawmakers in 2019 barring the procedure after 18 weeks of pregnancy and on the basis of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The three-judge panel found that the state’s only surgical abortion clinic and a physician were likely to succeed on their claim that Supreme Court precedent prevents a state from banning pre-viability abortions, generally considered to be 24 weeks or earlier.

The groups say that the most recent abortion ban violates equal protection and privacy rights extended under the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

“Absent an order from this court, plaintiffs will be forced to turn away patients seeking abortion care as of that date,” the lawsuit states. “This will inflict immediate and irreparable harm upon plaintiffs’ patients by blatantly violating their constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, threatening their health and well-being, and forcing them to continue their pregnancies against their will.”

Bills passed by more than a dozen GOP-led states banning abortion at various stages since 2019 have all been blocked in court and none are in effect, the ACLU noted in a news release.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning Services and Planned Parenthood’s Little Rock health center.

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