Arkansas Providers Make Last-Ditch Effort to Block Abortion Restrictions

Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue gather outside the Supreme Court in 2018 during the March for Life. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) — The federal judge who temporarily blocked enforcement of a set of Arkansas abortion restrictions is once again being asked to rule on whether the four anti-abortion laws tangled up in court for years should finally take effect as early as Tuesday.

The Monday morning filing from the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights comes less than a week after the Eighth Circuit declined to rehear the case following its August decision clearing the way for some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws to be reinstated.

The laws at the center of the years-long controversy, passed by Arkansas’ Republican-dominated Legislature in 2017, include a ban on a common second-trimester procedure known as dilation-and-evacuation, and also alter the standards for proper disposal of fetal tissue.

They would leave Arkansas, named last week as the “most pro-life state in America” by the anti-abortion advocacy group Americans United for Life, with even fewer options for abortion care. The laws would also result in the Little Rock doctor who brought the lawsuit being forced to turn away at least eight patients from his clinic in the coming days, according to the petition for emergency relief.

“All of these patients will be denied their constitutional right to obtain an abortion while these laws are in effect, and their care will be delayed or denied, pushing patients further into their pregnancies, creating medical risks,” the five-page petition states. “This is a quintessential example of immediate and irreparable harm.”

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker, a Barack Obama appointee, issued a preliminary injunction blocking Arkansas officials from enforcing the restrictions in July 2017, the year that Arkansas passed more abortion restrictions than any other statehouse in the country. But that ruling was vacated by a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit earlier this year after Arkansas Solicitor General Nicholas Bronni successfully argued that the lower court’s injunction “ignored Arkansas’ interests in protecting life and health benefits.”

Jenny Ma, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the group will exhaust all legal options to ensure that all of the challenged laws remain blocked.

“Not only are these laws unconstitutional, if they go into effect, they will unnecessarily expose pregnant people to severe and unwarranted harm,” Ma said in a statement. “If a pregnant person is in an abusive relationship or has a hostile home environment, the law requiring clinics to inform a patient’s partner or family of their abortion could seriously threaten their safety. And that’s just one of the laws.”

In an email exchange with attorneys from the ACLU over the weekend, Bronni, the state’s solicitor general, dismissed the notion that the status quo prohibiting enforcement of the four laws during litigation should be preserved.

“The status quo is that duly enacted laws go into effect, and you haven’t suggested any reason that wouldn’t be true here,” Bronni wrote to the attorneys in the email. “I don’t see anything below that explains why plaintiff thinks Arkansas’s laws protecting young girls from predators and sex traffickers, protecting unborn girls from systematic discrimination, requiring the respectful treatment of human remains, or barring a particularly barbaric manner of killing an unborn child are unconstitutional.”

Bronni also took issue with the timing of the emergency petition, writing in an opposition brief on Monday that the filings “appear to be part of a troubling pattern of seeking emergency relief near important religious occasions.” He also argued that the federal district court “must strictly obey the Eighth Circuit’s mandate,” expected to be issued by Tuesday.

Baker scheduled a telephonic hearing for Tuesday.

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