Federal judge rules Arkansas abortion law unconstitutional

A federal judge has struck down a portion of a law in Arkansas that bans most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, reasoning that the fetus’ viability, not heartbeat, determines the legality of such procedures.

At issue was an Arkansas law passed last March that said a woman could not receive an abortion beyond 12 weeks if the fetus had a heartbeat, except in cases of rape, incest, if the woman’s life was in danger or if the fetus had a highly lethal disorder.

U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled that viability – or the fetus’ ability to survive outside the womb – was the determining factor in abortion law and that Arkansas’ law was therefore unconstitutional. Viability is usually expected around 22 to 24 weeks, Wright noted. The ruling was part of a summary judgment motion made by two Arkansas doctors.

“The Supreme Court has … stressed that it is not the proper function of the legislature or the courts to place viability at a specific point in the gestation period,” Wright wrote. "The court finds as a matter of law that the twelve-week abortion ban included in [the law] prohibits pre-viability abortions and thus impermissibly infringes a woman’s Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability."

A portion of the law that mandates doctors perform an ultrasound and notify the pregnant woman if her fetus has a heartbeat at 12 weeks remained in place.

Republican state Sen. Jason Rapert, a supporter of the law, was satisfied with part of the ruling.

“Now, anyone who presents for abortion in our state, they’re going to be given an opportunity to know if there’s a living heartbeat in their womb, and that is a win for the pro-life movement,” Rapert told the Associated Press.

Wright's ruling came the same day North Dakota and that state's lone abortion clinic announced they had resolved a dispute concerning the state's new abortion law, meaning the facility would continue to provide the procedure.


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