Arkansas pro-life laws to go into effect after court ruling; AUL ranks state as 'most pro-life'

Pro-life signs
Demonstrators hold up signs at the 2020 March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 24, 2020. |

In a victory for the pro-life movement, a federal court has allowed abortion restrictions in Arkansas to take effect, denying the request of pro-abortion groups seeking to invalidate the laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights had filed a lawsuit against Arkansas laws that ban dismemberment abortions, require doctors to inform law enforcement when a girl younger than 16 obtains an abortion, prohibit abortions based on the sex of the unborn baby, and regulate the preservation and disposal of unborn babies’ tissue.

Following an August decision by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that vacated a preliminary injunction against the laws by a lower court, the plaintiffs applied for an en banc rehearing. The Eighth Circuit denied the plaintiffs’ request on Tuesday. As a result of the court’s decision, the laws could go into effect as early as Dec. 22.

In the August decision, the Eighth Circuit ordered the lower court to rehear the case in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June Medical Services, L.L.C. v. Russo. While the June Medical Services ruling struck down a Louisiana law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the opinion, contended that “state and federal legislatures (have) wide discretionto pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.”

In response to Tuesday’s ruling, Ruth Harlow, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, vowed that “we’re not backing down.”

“These Arkansas laws represent the worst motives of anti-abortion politicians: to shame, stigmatize, and humiliate abortion patients, and to make abortion care difficult if not impossible to access,” Harlow said.

In a statement to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Stephanie Sharp, a spokesperson for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, expressed support for the court ruling: “This is another win validating the pro-life laws in Arkansas.”

The Eighth Circuit’s ruling comes as Americans United for Life has recognized Arkansas as the most pro-life state in the Union. On Wednesday, the pro-life group released its “Life List 2021,” an “annual state ranking based on our comprehensive analysis of each state’s law and policy protections for human life from natural conception until natural death.”

“It is an incredible day in the state of Arkansas to be named the most pro-life state in America by Americans United for Life,” Rutledge said in response to the news.

“This has not been an easy road, but it is the most important fight we could take on and win. My office has successfully defended and won a number of pro-life cases, and as long as I am attorney general, I will ensure we continue to fight for the lives and the rights of the unborn. Even with this remarkable announcement, our work continues and I promise I will keep fighting wholeheartedly to defend our pro-life laws.”

The Americans United for Life cited a “whopping 10 pro-life laws” passed by Arkansas lawmakers in 2019 as part of the reason for its decision to label Arkansas as the most-pro-life state.

Pro-life measures passed in Arkansas include a ban on abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy, the prohibition of abortions based on an unborn baby’s diagnosis with Down syndrome, and a requirement that doctors performing abortions obtain board certification. Those laws were struck down at the district court level before they were slated to take effect in August 2019.

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