8th Circuit hears sides on state abortion laws

Put restrictions into effect, AG asks

A gavel and the scales of justice are shown in this photo.
A gavel and the scales of justice are shown in this photo.

LITTLE ROCK -- Attorneys made arguments via teleconference Wednesday regarding three abortion laws passed in 2019 by Arkansas legislators but have not been enforced because of an injunction by a local federal judge.

The arguments lasted 30 minutes and were made to a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

The laws in question are Act 493, which prohibits abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy in contravention to established federal law that permits abortions until the point of viability, which for years has allowed abortions in Arkansas to be performed through 21.6 weeks of pregnancy; Act 619, which prevents a doctor from performing an abortion with the knowledge that a woman is seeking it "solely on the basis" of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome; and Act 700, which requires Arkansas doctors who perform abortions to be board-certified or board-eligible OB-GYNs.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the appellate court to vacate the injunction so that the laws may go into effect.

The plaintiffs in the case are Little Rock Family Planning Services clinic and Tom Tvedten, one of the abortion doctors at the clinic.

Kendall Turner, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, called the state's pursuit to ban abortions prior to viability as "flatly unconstitutional" during her oral argument Wednesday.

The injunction blocking these laws from being enforced were imposed in August 2019 by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker in Little Rock.

In issuing the preliminary injunction, which will remain in effect unless the 8th Circuit overturns it, Baker called the 18-week ban unconstitutional. She also said the Down syndrome law unconstitutionally restricts pre-viability abortions.

As for the the OB-GYN rule, the judge stated that it confers little, if any, benefit upon women seeking abortion in Arkansas.

Arguing for Rutledge, the defendant in the case, was Deputy Solicitor General Vincent Wagner.

"The district court simply didn't do the work necessary to find that there was an undue burden ban in this case," Wagner said.

'The plaintiffs have put forward no evidence whatsoever of the fraction of women who would face a substantial obstacle as a result of [this] ban," he argued.

No date was given on when the judges will rule on the arguments.

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