Last week, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a two-week restraining order, effectively delaying the enforcement of three laws restricting abortion access in Arkansas. In the opinion, the Court found that “the threat of irreparable harm to plaintiffs and the public interest, outweighs the immediate interests and potential injuries to the defendant.”
The lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the firm of O’Melveny & Myers, LLP, who represented two independent physicians, as well as Little Rock Family Planning Services, and Planned Parenthood Great Plains (PPGP). Today, Little Rock Family Planning Services and Planned Parenthood’s Little Rock Health Center are the only clinics in the entire state of Arkansas that provide medical abortions. Only Little Rock Family Planning Services performs abortions after 10 weeks.
The first of the three challenged laws was set to ban abortion at 18 weeks, and the second law would have prohibited providers from performing abortions if an individual is seeking an abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. The third law blocked by Judge Baker mandated that “a person shall not perform or induce an abortion unless that person is a physician licensed to practice medicine in the state of Arkansas and is board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology.”
Without the restraining order issued by Judge Baker, Little Rock Family Planning Services would not have been able to continue its work. During a hearing last Monday, the director of Little Rock Family Planning Services, Lori Williams, explained to lawmakers that her clinic would no longer be able to operate if the three laws were to go into effect, because the staff members performing abortions in her clinic could not meet all of the requirements set by the third law. Despite the victory for Williams and her clinic, she will begin searching for doctors who possess the qualifications set by the third law in case the law survives after the restraining order.
In recent years, abortion rights in Arkansas have increasingly faced legal challenges. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to an Arkansas law mandating that doctors prescribing the abortion pill had to contract with another doctor who had admitting privileges at a hospital. This law effectively banned the use of the abortion pill in Arkansas as it imposed an unnecessary burden on doctors who perform medication abortions.
Similarly, in 2017, Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas signed into law the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, which allowed the husband of a woman seeking an abortion to sue his wife’s doctor, either for monetary gain or in order to place an injunction on the procedure, essentially allowing a man to refuse his partner access to an abortion. The law banned the most common and safest method for performing a second trimester abortion, essentially blocking all abortions after 14 weeks. Lawyers for the state eventually appealed the case to federal court.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 2/3/17, Wall Street Journal 7/24/19, The ACLU 7/24/19, CNN 7/24/19