Judge Extends Order Blocking Arkansas Abortion Laws

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) — The federal judge who temporarily blocked enforcement of Arkansas abortion restrictions extended her order Tuesday while a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the laws proceeds through court.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker in Little Rock issued a preliminary injunction hours before her two-week temporary restraining order was set to expire. The July 23 restraining order was issued the day before the new laws were to take effect.

Tuesday’s 186-page order found the three laws that include a ban on abortion after 18 weeks of pregnancy would cause “ongoing and imminent irreparable harm.” The judge also blocked as unconstitutional a restriction prohibiting physicians from providing the procedure unless they are board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology.

“Since the record at this stage of the proceedings indicates that women seeking abortions in Arkansas face an imminent threat to their constitutional rights, the court concludes that they will suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief,” Baker wrote.

The order also blocked enforcement of a law prohibiting doctors from performing an abortion on the basis of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, swiftly appealed to the Eighth Circuit. Amanda Priest, a spokeswoman for Rutledge, said in a statement that the attorney general “continues to defend Arkansas law protecting women’s health by requiring a board certified or eligible OBGYN to perform an abortion, as well as Arkansas laws that protect unborn life by prohibiting abortions after 18 weeks and at any time if based on a Down syndrome diagnosis.”

The state’s only surgical abortion clinic, Little Rock Family Planning Services, and Planned Parenthood Great Plains filed the lawsuit challenging the three laws, with two physicians as co-plaintiffs. They are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The strict measures, signed by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson in March, would have eliminated abortions in some cases and would have forced the state’s only surgical abortion clinic to close.

“These extreme bans and restrictions would have decimated abortion access in Arkansas, so we’re relieved the court has again blocked them from taking effect,” said Holly Dickson, legal director and interim executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “This ruling ensures our clients can continue to provide quality, compassionate medical care to Arkansans while we work to strike down these laws for good.”

Arkansas’ 18-week abortion ban is similar to a Utah measure that Planned Parenthood of Utah and the state agreed to put on hold in April pending a federal court challenge.

Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia have also recently passed toughened abortion restrictions.

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