Ark. 12-Week Abortion Ban Exposes Divide in Antiabortion-Rights Movement

March 11, 2013 — The Arkansas Legislature's recent enactment of legislation (SB 134) that bans most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy has exposed strategic divisions within the national antiabortion-rights movement, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Crary, AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/7).

The measure bans abortion after 12 weeks if a fetal heartbeat is detectable, with exceptions in cases of rape, incest, to save a woman's life or when the fetus has a fatal disorder. Doctors who violate the 12-week ban would have their licenses revoked by the state medical board.

The 12-week measure is slated to take effect 90 days after the Legislature ends its current session, which could be later this month or in April (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/7). The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights have pledged to challenge the ban in federal court.

Antiabortion-Rights Advocates Dispute Path Forward

Some abortion-rights opponents welcomed the new law as a bold challenge to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion until viability. However, other activists voiced concern that a court challenge could lead to judges affirming existing limits.

Michael Gonidakis, an attorney and president of Ohio Right to Life, said, "When you pass a law, the end goal is surviving in court." However, if the measure conflicts with Supreme Court precedent, "you could pass 100 bills a day, and they'll never go into effect," he noted. Gonidakis prefers an incremental approach of passing myriad state laws that chip away at abortion access.

CRR's Nancy Northup dismissed both approaches adopted by abortion-rights opponents. According to Northup, the wave of state laws that seek to curtail abortion rights "reveal what the end game is, which is to ban abortions as early as possible." She added that the 12-week ban "isn't chipping away. It's taking a sledgehammer" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/7).