By JEANNIE NUSS
Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, speaks during a news conference at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday, April 16, 2013. Abortion rights proponents filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to block Arkansas’ new abortion law, which is among the most restrictive in the nation. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Abortion rights advocates filed a lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to overturn the more restrictive of Arkansas’ two new abortion laws, saying its near-ban of abortions beginning in the 12th week of pregnancy is unconstitutional.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the suit on behalf of two doctors who provide abortions at a Little Rock clinic, say the ban on most abortions from the 12th week of pregnancy clearly contradicts the standard of viability established by the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
The Republican-led Legislature enacted the law last month by overriding a veto from Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. The governor warned legislators that he thought the law, which was the nation’s most restrictive until North Dakota passed a near-ban as early as the sixth week, wouldn’t hold up to a court challenge that was certain to come.
The lawsuit claims that Dr. Louis Jerry Edwards and Dr. Tom Tvedten could lose their licenses for providing abortions starting at the 12th week of pregnancy, meaning the law denies “patients their constitutionally-guaranteed right to decide to end a pre-viability pregnancy.” It names members of the State Medical Board as defendants because the board is responsible for licensing medical professionals.
Arkansas’ 12-week ban is tied to the date at which a fetal heartbeat is typically detected by an abdominal ultrasound. The ban includes exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders.
But the 12-week ban is not the only new abortion law in Arkansas. State lawmakers this year also overrode Beebe’s veto of a separate bill banning most abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy. That bill took effect immediately after the final override vote, whereas the 12-week ban wouldn’t take effect until July 18, according to the lawsuit.
The 20-week prohibition, which is based on the disputed claim that a fetus can feel pain by the 20th week and therefore deserves protection from abortion, includes all of the same exemptions as the 12-week ban, except for fetal disorders.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday does not challenge the 20-week measure, as challenges to similar laws in other states are already pending.
“We are asking the court to block an attempt to essentially outlaw all abortions past 12 weeks, so early that a woman might not know the complete health and status of her pregnancy,” Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
The lawsuit is far from unexpected. Abortion rights proponents have said all along that they would sue to block the 12-week ban from taking effect, and Arkansas Right to Life’s director said she had expected a legal challenge.
Even Beebe warned lawmakers that the 12-week and 20-week measures would likely fail in court.
Rose Mimms, the executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, said groups like hers are hopeful that laws restricting abortions will land again before the U.S. Supreme Court and be considered against new discoveries regarding fetal development.
“They didn’t have that kind of information when they decided Roe v. Wade,” Mimms said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion until a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. A fetus is generally considered viable at 22 to 24 weeks.
Sklar said the Supreme Court has recognized that the Constitution protects a woman’s ability to make her own decision regarding abortions.
“But our state Legislature ignored the law and voted to take a woman’s decision-making ability away,” Sklar said.
A lead sponsor of the 12-week ban, Republican state Sen. Jason Rapert, said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet, but he said it wasn’t a surprise.
“We definitely are planning to defend it,” he said. “It’s a law duly passed by the state of Arkansas.”
Associated Press writer Andrew DeMillo contributed to this report.