Appeals court upholds hold on Arkansas abortion laws

January 6, 2021 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday kept on hold an Arkansas law banning abortions 18 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy and another banning the procedure from being performed because the fetus has Down syndrome.

The 8th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s 2019 ruling temporarily blocking Arkansas from enforcing the measures.

“As the district court recognized, the law governing the constitutionality of two of the three statutes at issue — Act 493 and Act 619 -- though obviously subject to change in the future, is well established in this Circuit today,” the three-judge panel said in Tuesday’s ruling.


U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker in 2019 ruled that both measures unconstitutionally restrict abortion before a fetus is viable, or able to survive outside the womb.

“This ruling is a victory for all Arkansans and a decisive repudiation of Arkansas politicians’ ongoing crusade to deny people the right to make their own medical decisions and force them to continue pregnancies against their will,” Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said in a statement. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood challenged the laws.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who had defended the measures in court, said she planned to seek further review of the appeals court’s decision.

“The Supreme Court must limit and ultimately overturn Casey and I plan to do everything in my power to see that they do,” Rutledge, a Republican, said in a statement, referring to the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, which prohibited regulations that created an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion.

The appeals court dismissed part of the case challenging Baker’s decision blocking a requirement that doctors performing abortions be board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology. Little Rock Family Planning Services, the state’s only surgical abortion clinic, has said that part of the appeal was moot because it has since hired a board-certified OB-GYN. The appeals court directed Baker to lift her order blocking the law’s enforcement.

Attorneys for the clinic previously said the law would likely force the clinic’s closure.

In a separate ruling, Baker issued a preliminary injunction that would block four other abortion restrictions, including one that bans a procedure commonly used in the second trimester.

Baker had granted a temporary restraining order blocking the four laws on Dec. 22 that had been set to expire Tuesday unless it was extended. The injunction would sideline the restrictions until Baker can make a final judgment of the merit of the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Little Rock clinic.

The rulings come less than a week before the start of Arkansas’ next legislative session, where lawmakers are expected to take up new abortion bans in response to the U.S. Supreme Court shifting further to the right under President Donald Trump. One lawmaker has filed a measure that would ban nearly all abortions in the state.