Arkansas Abortion Laws Challenged in Federal Court

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union, its Arkansas chapter and the Center for Reproductive Rights sued Arkansas officials to stop four new laws they say could upend a woman’s constitutionally protected right to abortion care in the state.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Little Rock federal court and seeks to prevent the laws from going into effect by claiming they violate due process rights and unnecessarily harm women’s health.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains and the ACLU also filed a separate federal complaint challenging a fifth law requiring the suspension of an abortion clinic’s license for any minor infraction “regardless of whether the infraction poses any risk to patient health or safety.”

The complaint challenging the four laws was filed on behalf of Dr. Frederick W. Hopkins, an abortion provider at Little Rock Family Planning Services, who says he will be subject to severe civil, criminal and professional penalties for providing safe and legal abortions.

One of the laws – Act 45, or the “D&E ban” – makes it a felony for a doctor to perform the abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation, punishable by up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The groups say the law would effectively ban the method, which they call safe.

The other three laws change the standards for the disposal of a dead fetus, require that doctors provide fetal tissue from the abortions of minor patients to law enforcement, and call on doctors to obtain a patient’s entire pregnancy history before performing an abortion.

Passed by Arkansas’ Republican-controlled Legislature, the first three provisions are set to go into effect July 30. The medical records mandate is set to become law Jan. 1, 2018.

“Enforcement of each of the four challenged laws threatens to block altogether a woman’s constitutionally protected right to access abortion care,” Hopkins’ 63-page lawsuit says. “Each would impose delay, which endangers a woman’s health and can itself make abortion care impossible for her to obtain.”

In the second lawsuit, Planned Parenthood Great Plains asks a judge to block enforcement of Act 383, which it says singles out abortion clinics for differential treatment and burdens access to abortion care.

The law amends the state’s licensing regulations to require the Arkansas Department of Health to suspend or revoke the licenses of abortion clinics “for the violation of any provision of law or rule.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt made it clear that lawmakers “can’t stand between women and their constitutional rights.”

“From essentially banning abortion in the second trimester to violating women’s privacy, these measures represent a new low,” Northup said.

A spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said that she will “continue to wholeheartedly defend laws in Arkansas that are intended to protect both mothers and their babies.”

Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council, said the laws being challenged hold abortion clinics to reasonable health and safety standards.

“These lawsuits are almost unbelievable,” Cox said. “The ACLU is challenging laws designed to do things like help protect underage girls and ensure doctors know a woman’s medical history before performing an abortion.”

Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said the laws create burdensome bureaucratic hurdles that invade patient privacy.

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