A federal judge struck down Arkansas' controversial 12 week abortion ban, saying that viability, not a heartbeat, is the key factor in determining whether abortions should be allowed. A legal group defending the bill says it aims to have the Supreme Court take up the case and reconsider Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling which legalized abortion in the U.S.
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright struck down the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act Friday, Reuters reported. She declared the ban unconstitutional, citing previous court decisions saying that abortions should not be restricted until a fetus reaches viability, between 22 and 24 weeks. The law "impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability" of the fetus, as established by The Supreme Court.
Wright claimed that only a doctor could determine viability. Governor Mike Beebe (D) had vetoed the bill last February, citing the viability standard. Republicans, however, controlling the statehouse for the first time since Reconstruction, overrode him.
While Wright struck down the abortion ban, she allowed a portion of the law that requires doctors to check for a fetal heartbeat and notify the pregnant woman if the fetus' heart is beating, USA Today reported. State Senator Jason Rapert (R), who sponsored the fetal heartbeat bill, said he was encouraged that this part of the law was upheld. "When people have to face the reality that there's a living heartbeat in their womb, that will make them rethink about taking the life away from their baby," Rapert said.
"Not a Surprise"
"The ruling is what the governor predicted in his veto letter last year," Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample told USA today. Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Arkansas' Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D), also called it predictable. "Today's decision was not a surprise," Sadler said.
Wright temporarily blocked the same legislation last May, The Christian Post reported previously. Writing that the law was "more than likely unconstitutional," the judge told NBC News "this act defines viability as something viability is not."
McDaniel, who withdrew from the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary due to sex scandal allegations last year, told Reuters he had not decided whether the state would appeal Wright's decision. Rapert said he had urged McDaniel to defend the law, and said a national pro-life group had volunteered to undertake the appeal "at no cost to the Arkansas taxpayers," so long as McDaniel designated the organization as "special counsel."
An Opportunity to Challenge Roe?
"It's not outside the realm of possibility for the current Supreme Court to readdress Roe vs. Wade in a way that leans toward our position," Josh Mesker, spokesman for the Little Rock-based Family Council, told NBC News last May. The ultimate goal, Mesker explained, is to have the Supreme Court hear the case, where he thinks the abortion ban would prevail as a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade.
Jerry Cox, Family Counsel executive director, previously told CP that his organization supports the act because it creates "a culture of life."
"What this bill does is it provides an opportunity for us, all of us, to create a culture of life rather than a culture of death," Cox said. "And that's extremely important, because as a person who believes in God, as a Christian, I believe that God is all about life. So the more that we can create a culture that honors life, that affirms the sanctity of human life, then the better off we are in all sectors of life."