Judge blocks Arkansas from en­forc­ing 4 abor­tion re­stric­tions

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

LIT­TLE ROCK, Ark. — A fed­eral judge has blocked Arkansas from en­forc­ing four new abor­tion re­stric­tions, in­clud­ing a ban on a com­mon sec­ond trimester pro­ce­dure and a fe­tal re­mains law that op­po­nents say would ef­fec­tively re­quire a part­ner’s con­sent be­fore a woman could get an abor­tion.

U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge Kris­tine Baker is­sued a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion late Fri­day night against the new re­stric­tions, three of which were set to take ef­fect Tues­day. The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and the Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights had chal­lenged the mea­sures, su­ing on be­half of Dr. Fred­er­ick Hop­kins, a Lit­tle Rock abor­tion provider.

The laws in­clude a ban on a pro­ce­dure known as di­la­tion and evac­u­a­tion. Abor­tion-rights sup­port­ers con­tend it’s the safest and most com­mon pro­ce­dure used in sec­ond-trimester abor­tions. Sim­i­lar bans are in ef­fect in Mis­sis­sippi and West Vir­ginia and have been blocked by court rul­ings in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana and Ok­la­homa. A ban ap­proved in Texas will take ef­fect in Septem­ber and is also be­ing chal­lenged in court. The groups said the ban would have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact, while the state ar­gued that al­ter­na­tive pro­ce­dures are avail­able.

“The threat­ened harm to Dr. Hop­kins and the frac­tion of women for whom the Man­date is rel­e­vant clearly out­weighs what­ever dam­age or harm a pro­posed in­junc­tion may cause the State of Arkansas,” Baker wrote in her rul­ing.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice did not have an im­me­di­ate com­ment on the rul­ing. At­tor­neys for the ACLU of Arkansas did not im­me­di­ately re­ply to mes­sages early Sat­ur­day morn­ing.

Baker’s rul­ing also halts a law that would im­pose new re­stric­tions on the dis­posal of fe­tal tis­sue from abor­tions. The plain­tiffs ar­gued that it could also block ac­cess by re­quir­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tion of a third party, such as the woman’s sex­ual part­ner or her par­ents, to de­ter­mine what hap­pens to the fe­tal re­mains. The state has said the law doesn’t re­quire per­mis­sion or no­tice from those third par­ties be­fore an abor­tion and in­cludes sev­eral pro­vi­sions that en­sure no­tice or con­sent isn’t re­quired to dis­pose of the fe­tal re­mains.

Baker said the dis­posal law’s re­quire­ments would dis­suade doc­tors from per­form­ing abor­tions and cre­ate sig­nif­i­cant de­lays for women seek­ing the pro­ce­dure.

“For th­ese rea­sons, the Court is not con­vinced that im­port­ing the [dis­posal law’s] com­plex re­quire­ments for au­tho­riza­tion ad­vances a pub­lic health goal,” Baker wrote. “Th­ese re­quire­ments also do not ad­vance in­ter­ests in women’s health be­cause de­lay and other neg­a­tive ef­fects in­stead threaten women’s health and well­be­ing.”

Baker also blocked part of a law set to take ef­fect in Jan­uary that would ban abor­tions based solely on the fe­tus’ sex. The groups are chal­leng­ing the law’s re­quire­ment that a doc­tor per­form­ing the abor­tion first re­quest records re­lated to the en­tire preg­nancy his­tory of the woman. The plain­tiffs say the re­quire­ment would vi­o­late a pa­tient’s pri­vacy and in­def­i­nitely de­lay a woman’s ac­cess to abor­tion.

The judge also blocked a law that would ex­pand a re­quire­ment that physi­cians per­form­ing abor­tions for pa­tients un­der 14 take cer­tain steps to pre­serve em­bry­onic or fe­tal tis­sue and no­tify po­lice where the mi­nor re­sides. The new mea­sure, which was also set to take ef­fect Tues­day, would have raised the age re­quire­ment to less than 17 years of age.

The rul­ing came hours af­ter a fed­eral ap­peals court panel cleared the way for Arkansas to en­force a law that will limit how the abor­tion pill can be ad­min­is­tered. The panel lifted Baker’s or­der block­ing the 2015 law re­quir­ing doc­tors who pro­vide such pills to main­tain a con­tract with an­other physi­cian who has ad­mit­ting priv­i­leges at a hos­pi­tal and who agrees to han­dle any com­pli­ca­tions. The state can’t en­force the abor­tion pill re­stric­tions un­til the ap­peals panel’s rul­ing takes ef­fect in about two or three weeks.

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