(REVISED 6.2.2016) In 2013, Arkansas passed a blatantly unconstitutional ban on previability abortion. The law required that a doctor perform an ultrasound prior to terminating a pregnancy and attempt to detect a “heartbeat.” It then prohibited abortions beginning at twelve weeks of pregnancy if a “heartbeat” could be detected. In all normally progressing pregnancies, some cardiac activity can be detected by twelve weeks. Thus, the law banned all abortions beginning at twelve weeks, which make up 20% of the abortions performed in the state.
Plaintiff(s):Louis Jerry Edwards, M.D., and Tom Tvedten, M.D.
Center Attorney(s): Stephanie Toti
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Bettina Brownstein, ACLU of AR, Susan Talcott Camp, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Summary: The Center for Reproductive Rights, together with the ACLU and the ACLU of Arkansas, challenged the law in federal court in April 2013, on behalf of two Arkansas doctors and their patients. The plaintiffs argued that the ban violated patients’ constitutional rights to liberty and privacy under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court agreed and permanently enjoined the ban, ruling that it was unconstitutional because there is no evidence a fetus can be viable at twelve weeks. The court, however, upheld the law’s provisions mandating that doctors perform an ultrasound examination on every woman seeking an abortion and then inform the woman in writing whether the fetus possesses a “heartbeat,” as well as the statistical probability of carrying a fetus of that gestational age to term.