Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office on Friday filed a formal notice that it is appealing a federal judge's July 28 order blocking the state from enforcing four new laws tightening restrictions on abortions.
One of the laws, Act 45 of 2017, bans a common second-trimester procedure, dilation and evacuation, that attorneys for the state have called "particularly barbaric" but that abortion-rights supporters say is the safest method after 14 weeks of pregnancy. It is also the only second-trimester method available in outpatient facilities in Arkansas, where abortions are banned after 19 weeks of pregnancy.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's preliminary injunction also blocks the enforcement of Act 603 of 2017, which governs the disposal of fetal remains after surgical abortions. Abortion-rights supporters say the law requires the consent of third parties prior to every abortion and can be read to ban medication abortions.
It also blocks Act 1018 of 2017, which requires doctors to notify local law enforcement agencies of abortions performed on girls age 16 or younger, and Act 733 of 2017, which requires doctors to seek a woman's prior medical records if she knows the sex of her fetus and is seeking an abortion. The state has said Act 733 was meant to ensure a woman isn't using abortion as a means of sex selection, but abortion rights supporters said it merely adds an extra burden that invades a woman's privacy.
Before they were blocked, the first three laws were to take effect Aug. 1, while the fourth wasn't set to take effect until Jan. 1.
In a 140-page written order issued just before midnight on the Friday before the first three laws were to take effect, Baker sided with Dr. Frederick Hopkins of Little Rock Family Planning Services, which performed most of the state's abortions last year.
Hopkins was the named plaintiff in a lawsuit filed June 20, which Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said was necessary to prevent Arkansas lawmakers from effectively ending abortion services within the state.
Jerry Cox, president of the conservative, anti-abortion Family Council, has praised the laws and said they were designed to protect women, girls and the unborn. The national Center for Reproductive Rights, meanwhile, called the measures "a new low" for Arkansas.
Hopkins' lawsuit, backed by the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights, names as defendants Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley and the members of the state Medical Board, whose duty is to enforce the laws.
Baker heard about two hours' worth of arguments July 13 in her Little Rock courtroom from Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, and Nicholas Bronni, deputy solicitor general under Rutledge.
In the written order that followed, Baker said repeatedly that the state had failed to provide evidence that the laws fulfilled the state's interest in protecting women and minors and honoring "respect for unborn life." The injunction is to remain in place until the constitutionality of the new laws can be decided, after both sides present testimony and evidence.
On the same day the lawsuit challenging the four laws was filed, a second federal lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood and Little Rock Family Planning Services on behalf of patients and clinics that provide abortions.
That case, assigned to U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr., challenges new state regulations for abortion clinics that the plaintiffs say violate equal protection laws by not applying to other state-regulated clinics. The legislation requires the state to immediately suspend an abortion clinic's license for any infraction cited during state Health Department inspections, even if the infraction has nothing to do with patient health or safety.
Moody heard arguments Aug. 10 in that case and has said he will issue a written ruling on the plaintiffs' request for an injunction to permanently block the law's enforcement.
On the same day Baker issued her injunction halting the enforcement of the four 2017 laws, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis overturned an injunction she issued last year to halt the enforcement of another state law concerning abortion.
Arkansas lawmakers enacted that law in 2015 to require doctors who perform medication abortions to contract with physicians who have admitting privileges at hospitals.
Planned Parenthood has said that law would force the closure of its two clinics in the state, one each in Little Rock and Fayetteville, which provide only medication abortions. That would leave only one abortion provider in the state: Little Rock Family Planning Services in Little Rock.
Baker's injunction had cited her concerns that a large number of women may choose to forgo abortions when faced with longer waits and traveling to Little Rock from all corners of the state. The 8th Circuit panel sent the case back to Baker to provide a more complete estimate of the number of women who would be burdened by the law.
Metro on 08/26/2017
Print Headline: AG to appeal ruling staying abortion laws