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A Planned Parenthood clinic

A demonstrator stands outside a Planned Parenthood clinic on May 30, 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Federal Judge Blocks Arkansas Abortion Ban, Calling Law 'Categorically Unconstitutional'

"Abortion remains legal in Arkansas," said the ACLU, "as it is in all 50 states."

Julia Conley

The ACLU is calling a federal judge's decision to block an extreme abortion ban in Arkansas "a big win"—the latest victory by rights advocates as Republican-led state legislatures pass increasingly extreme bans—while pro-choice lawmakers called for the passage of legislation guaranteeing abortion rights.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, ruled on Tuesday that the law signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson is "categorically unconstitutional" and would cause "imminent irreparable harm" to patients and doctors in Arkansas.

"We can only rely on the courts to uphold reproductive rights for so long. It's time for Congress to act and guarantee the right to safe and accessible abortions."
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)

Prior to Baker's injunction the law was set to go into effect on July 28 and would have banned abortion care in all cases, including rape and incest, except "to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency."

Requiring patients to experience a life-threatening medical emergency in order to obtain a legal procedure "would pose serious risk to the physical, mental, and emotional health of these patients," Meagan Burrows, a staff attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, told the New York Times.

Burrows was one of the lawyers who represented the plaintiffs in the case, including Planned Parenthood Great Plains, Little Rock Family Planning Services, and Dr. Janet Cathey, an obstetrician-gynecologist based in Little Rock.

Under the law, a medical provider who performed an abortion could have been liable for a $100,000 fine or sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. 

Cathey expressed relief that following Baker's ruling she'll be able to "continue caring for [her] patients."

"Arkansas politicians have spent more and more of their time inserting themselves into the exam room and in the process, have made the doctor-patient relationship the basis for political attacks," Cathey said in a statement. "Patients must be able to make their own personal medical decisions with the advice and expertise of their healthcare provider."

Judges have temporarily blocked other anti-choice laws recently in other states including Ohio, Texas, and Mississippi.

In the latter, the U.S. Supreme Court announced in May it will hear a case regarding the state's 15-week abortion ban. The Arkansas law specifically states that its Republican authors want the high court, which is dominated by right-wing judges, to take up the issue of reproductive rights, calling legal and safe abortion care a "crime against humanity." 

A Supreme Court decision in favor of Mississippi's law would make abortion care illegal in 22 states.

Pro-choice lawmakers applauded Baker's ruling on Wednesday, but called on their fellow members of Congress to pass the Women's Health Protection Act, which would protect abortion access in every state, even if Roe vs. Wade is weakened or overturned. 

"Good," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) in response to Baker's ruling. "But we can only rely on the courts to uphold reproductive rights for so long. It's time for Congress to act and guarantee the right to safe and accessible abortions."

For the time being, said the ACLU, the ruling "makes clear that Arkansas's abortion ban is just as unconstitutional" as several other bans that have recently been struck down.

"Abortion remains legal in Arkansas, as it is in all 50 states," said the group.

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