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Arkansas Appealing District Court's Ruling in Abortion Law Case

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on April 17, 2014 3:55 PM

Constitutional precedent is clear. The Roe v. Wade Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause provides a qualified right to women to terminate a pregnancy. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court reiterated that before viability (generally understood to be 24 weeks), a State's "interests are not strong enough to support an abortion prohibition or the imposition of substantial obstacles to the woman's effective right to elect the procedure."

Nonetheless, many states continue to pass legislation that appears to be facially unconstitutional. Arkansas is one of them.

The Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act

In 2013, the Arkansas General Assembly passed the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act which has three requirements: (1) a heartbeat testing requirement that provides that physicians licensed in Arkansas must perform an abdominal ultrasound to detect a fetus' heartbeat; (2) a disclosure requirement that provides that physicians must disclose to their patients that the fetus has a heartbeat, among other things, and (3) a ban on abortions performed at 12-weeks or more, where a fetal heartbeat is detected (with few exceptions). Although Democratic Governor Mike Beebe vetoed the law, the Arkansas Legislature overrode the veto, reports The Associated Press.

The District Court Decision

Faced with dueling motions for summary judgment, Judge Webber Wright found partially for both parties. She found that "as a matter of law that the twelve-week abortion ban included in Act 301 prohibits pre-viability abortions and thus impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability." Because plaintiffs, doctors who perform abortions between 12 and 24 weeks, could potentially lose their licenses, she found they would suffer "irreparable harm unless the State is permanently enjoined from enforcing the twelve-week abortion ban."

Furthermore, she found the Act severable, and held that portions of the statute that deal with heartbeat testing and disclosure "are independently capable of furthering the stated purpose" of the Act.

The Appeal

Last week, defendants filed a notice of appeal to express their intention of appealing to the Eighth Circuit. In a statement, Arkansas Attorney General announced the intention to appeal, stating that he had assurances that budgeting concerns would not be affected by pursuing the litigation.

We'll keep you posted as this case, and others like this one, progress.

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