Lawsuit Challenges Ark. 12-Week Abortion Ban

April 17, 2013 —The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging a new Arkansas law (SB 134) that bans most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, Politico reports. The suit argues that the ban violates Supreme Court precedent affirming that the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from banning abortions prior to fetal viability (Smith, Politico, 4/17).

The Arkansas law prohibits abortions 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/12).

The measure was enacted last month after the state Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Mike Beebe (D), who called the legislation "blatantly unconstitutional."

Lawsuit Details

The suit seeks a permanent injunction to prevent the law from taking effect on July 18. The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas on behalf of two abortion providers (Eckholm, New York Times, 4/16).

"In violation of over 40 years of settled United States Supreme Court precedent, the act bans abortion care starting at 12 weeks of pregnancy, threatening the rights, liberty and well-being of Arkansas women and their families," the filing states (Politico, 4/17).


Stephanie Toti -- senior staff attorney at CRR -- said in a statement, "We fully expect the court to immediately strike down" the law (Politico, 4/17). ACLU of Arkansas Director Rita Sklar called the law "a clear violation of U.S. court rulings, dating back 40 years" (Parker, Reuters, 4/16).

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's (D) office said it is prepared for the legal challenge. McDaniel spokesperson Aaron Sadler said, "It is our responsibility to defend state law, and we will do so in this litigation" (Politico, 4/17).

Meanwhile, state Sen. Jason Rapert (R) -- the bill's sponsor -- said he believes the Supreme Court is ready to redefine viability and link it to the detection of a fetal heartbeat (New York Times, 4/16).