Federal District Court Blocks Four Arkansas Abortion Restrictions Due to Legal Challenge Brought by Center for Reproductive Rights, ACLU

Measures could have effectively ended abortion care for many women in the state

(PRESS RELEASE) A federal district court judge last night preliminarily blocked four abortion restrictions passed in Arkansas this year.  The ruling comes a little over a month after the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Arkansas filed a challenge to the four measures, which included a ban on one of the safest and most common methods of ending a pregnancy in the second trimester as well as a host of restrictions that force doctors to notify others—including family members—of a woman’s abortion.  Many of the measures could have imposed significant, if not indefinite, delays on a woman’s ability to access abortion and miscarriage care if they have been allowed to take effect. In short, these laws could have effectively ended abortion care in the state for many women. 

Arkansas politicians made it their mission to rob women of their health care options this year,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “Today’s ruling blocks four cruel and unconstitutional restrictions which ignore women’s dignity and privacy.
“The Center for Reproductive Rights will continue to stand with Arkansas women against attacks on their rights and vows to fight these restrictions until they are permanently blocked.”
Arkansas passed the highest number of measures restricting a woman’s access to safe and legal abortion this year.  Politicians in the state also passed the highest number of restrictions in 2015.
Virtually identical laws banning one of the safest and most common methods of ending a pregnancy in the second trimester in Louisiana, Kansas, and Oklahoma have not taken effect due to challenges brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights.  The ACLU has also successfully blocked a similar ban in Alabama while the Center and Planned Parenthood also just filed a new challenge to a similar measure in Texas last week. 
“We’re pleased to know these insulting, harmful, and unconstitutional laws will be enjoined while we fight them in court,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.  “By blocking these laws, the judge has prevented some of the most egregious burdens Arkansas politicians have tried to impose on women seeking abortion in the state.”
In addition to challenging the ban—a measure that threatens to end second-trimester abortion care in the state—this lawsuit also challenges several first-of-their-kind measures:
  • a measure that would prohibit a woman from obtaining an abortion until her physician, for no medical reason, has spent an undefined amount of “time and effort” to obtain her medical records relating her “entire pregnancy history.” The measure would require disclosure of a woman’s abortion to every health care professional from whom she has received pregnancy care during her current pregnancy and any previous pregnancy, and potentially cause an indefinite delay in receiving care;
  • a measure that would force doctors to notify a woman’s family members about their right to participate in the disposition of tissue from her abortion or miscarriage. The same measure could effectively ban medication abortion by imposing impossible requirements on women and their health care providers when a woman completes her medication abortion outside of a doctor’s office.  Restrictions related to disposal of tissue, such as requirements that mandate burial or cremation of fetal tissue, have been blocked across the country, including in Texas where the Center has preliminarily blocked such a measure from taking effect; 
  • a measure that would violate the privacy rights of young women under the age of 17 seeking safe, legal abortion services by disclosing her name and additional information to local law enforcement, and could effectively ban medication abortion for these young women.
The measures were slated to take effect this week except the medical records mandate, which was slated to take effect on January 1, 2018.  The measures will remain blocked while the litigation continues.
Hillary Schneller from the Center for Reproductive Rights, Talcott Camp, Ruth Harlow, and Elizabeth Watson from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Bettina Brownstein, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Arkansas, filed last month’s challenge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas on behalf of Dr. Fred Hopkins at Little Rock Family Planning Services.  Little Rock Family Planning is the only abortion clinic providing surgical abortion care in Arkansas.
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