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Challenge to Ark. 12-Week Abortion Ban May Proceed, Judge Rules

Challenge to Ark. 12-Week Abortion Ban May Proceed, Judge Rules

May 16, 2013 — A federal judge on Wednesday denied the Arkansas attorney general's request to dismiss a lawsuit against a state law (Act 301) banning most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, Bloomberg reports (Pettersson/Harris, Bloomberg, 5/16).

The 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. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights last month filed a suit arguing that the ban violates Supreme Court precedent affirming that the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from banning abortions prior to fetal viability.

The state countered that ACLU and CRR lack standing to challenge the law because it does not take effect until August. However, the groups argued that health care providers -- who stand to lose their medical licenses for violating the law -- should not have to risk liability while waiting until the ban is enforced (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/15).

The suit was filed on behalf of two doctors, Louis Jerry Edwards and Tom Tvedten, both of whom are affiliated with Little Rock Family Planning Services (Bloomberg, 5/16).

Judge's Ruling

U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright wrote that the doctors "demonstrated a realistic danger of sustaining a direct injury as a result of [the law's] operation or enforcement, and they have presented a justiciable controversy that is ripe for review."

Wright also rejected the state's argument that the law should not be subject to a constitutional challenge because it does not ban all pre-viability abortions (DeMillo, AP/Huffington Post, 5/15).

Wright noted the plaintiffs' arguments that 12 weeks is still months before viability and that 20% of abortions in Arkansas take place after 12 weeks. The plaintiffs "have alleged facts sufficient to state a claim that the [law] impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to choose to terminate a pregnancy before viability," she wrote (Bloomberg, 5/16).

A hearing on the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for Friday (AP/Huffington Post, 5/15).