GOP state lawmakers in Arkansas advanced a measure this year to ban almost all abortions statewide and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the resulting bill into law.
Although the restrictions were set to go into effect later this month, a federal district judge issued a preliminary injunction halting any such implementation.
In a 21-page ruling handed down on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker determined that the measure, which allows abortions only in the case of “medical emergencies” involving the mother, is “categorically unconstitutional.”
The judge, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2011, asserted that the state does not have the authority to ban the abortion of babies unable to live outside of the mother’s womb.
As Baker’s ruling explained, the underlying lawsuit against Arkansas had been filed by Little Rock Family Planning Services, Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, and an abortion provider on behalf of patients.
The plaintiffs took issue with Act 309, which provides that a “person shall not purposely perform or attempt to perform an abortion except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.”
Furthermore, the measure defines an “unborn child” as any “individual organism of the species Homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth.”
Violations of the restriction could lead to a 10-year prison sentence and fines up to $100,000 as well as possible license revocation for abortion clinics and doctors.
In her ruling, Baker referenced the perceived safety of abortion procedures and seemed to argue that the law would disproportionately impact minorities, the poor, and rural residents.
She also cited several other court decisions as precedent cases upholding the constitutionality of “pre-viability” abortions and barring states from imposing prohibitions on any such abortions. In the end, the judge determined that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their complaint, granting the request for a preliminary injunction that will block the new law pending further orders from the court.
In a statement from Executive Director Holly Dickson, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas celebrated the ruling as a roadblock against “another cruel and harmful attempt to criminalize abortion care and intrude on Arkansans’ deeply personal medical decisions.”
For his part, however, Hutchinson called for further intervention in support of the law, declaring: “This legislation had the dual purpose of protecting Arkansans’ unborn and challenging long-standing Supreme Court precedent regarding abortion. I hope the Supreme Court will ultimately accept this case for review.”