A U.S. district judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked an Arkansas law that banned nearly all abortions from going into effect, allowing an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood lawsuit to proceed against it.
The lawsuit represents the latest in a series of actions that the ACLU and other organizations are taking against states enacting abortion restrictions and bans in the months leading up to what could be a landmark Supreme Court ruling on abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act, passed in March, criminalizes performing abortions under any circumstances except to save the mother’s life in a medical emergency and punishes offenders with a $100,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison. It was slated to take effect on July 28.
The law compares the Supreme Court’s rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey to rulings that withdrew legal protections from African Americans like the Dred Scott decision. It explicitly calls abortion a “crime against humanity” that “denies personhood to a class of human beings.”
Arkansas Rep. Mary Bentley, who was a primary sponsor for the bill, told The American Spectator that she was “not surprised, although disappointed, with the ruling,” given the record of the judge who decided the case, Kristine Baker.
“We had overwhelming support for this bill in the state legislature and we had overwhelming support from Arkansans,” Bentley said. “We are very disappointed but hope as we move forward that this bill will be the impetus that helps to overturn Roe v. Wade for Arkansas and for the nation.”
Arkansas Rep. Ken Bragg, a co-sponsor of the bill, echoed these sentiments: “We passed this bill specifically to test the constitutionality of Roe vs. Wade and send it to the Supreme Court.” He told The American Spectator that while it’s good that the Mississippi bill will be heard by the Supreme Court, “the Arkansas bill is more restrictive and will be the ultimate test. We believe life begins at conception and the only reason to terminate that life is for the health of the mother.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson agreed that his purpose in passing the law was to encourage the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. “That was the whole design of the law. It is not constitutional under Supreme Court cases right now,” Hutchinson told CNN. “I signed it because it is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.”
Arkansas is not the only state taking legislative action in an effort to bring a challenge to the Supreme Court. Since January, lawmakers across 16 states have enacted 83 abortion restrictions, including 10 bans. Policy expert Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice activist organization, said that 2021 has become a “defining year for abortion rights.”
The Supreme Court agreed in May to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case on a Mississippi abortion law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch formally urged the Supreme Court to use the case to overturn Roe in a new brief filed Thursday. Given the court’s current conservative majority, some legal experts are predicting that the ruling could make landmark changes to abortion rights in the United States.
Heritage Foundation Legal Fellow Sarah Perry told The American Spectator that the effect of state bans like that of Arkansas will be determined by the outcome of the Mississippi case. “A lot of people have posited that it is the appropriate vehicle to overturn Roe v. Wade,” she said. “If it does so, that will send the minutiae of abortion policy-making back to the states, where it belongs anyway.”
Perry noted that while the multitude of state restrictions will be unlikely to influence the Supreme Court’s ruling, they “indicate to us that the needle is moving towards a yes or no on Roe.” The court, she said, “will have to explicitly acknowledge in the ruling what its decision will do for state bans and restrictions.”
Perry said the Supreme Court will be forced to confront some of the developing science on what constitutes fetal viability that wasn’t available in 1973, when Roe was decided.
But recent rulings in which Justices John Roberts, Amy Coney Barrett, and Brett Kavanaugh have emerged as more moderate than Americans expected indicate that a staunchly conservative victory is by no means guaranteed.
Lonnie Robinson, a doctor from Arkansas who specializes in family medicine and obstetrics, told The American Spectator, “My Hippocratic oath, which I took as I became a physician, challenged me to ‘first of all, do no harm,’ and it is impossible for me to reconcile that oath with the practice that some hold up as ‘essential healthcare.’ ”
He claimed that an individual’s rights end where they begin to infringe upon those of another individual. “Those in favor of abortion do not recognize the right of an unborn child,” he said. “I practiced obstetrics for 20 years, and it is evident to me as I am in the middle of a complicated labor, with high anxiety about both the well-being of a mother as well as the fetal heart rate tracing on the monitor, that I have two patients for whom I am responsible: the mother and the baby.”
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