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Groups Issue Warning with Arkansas Abortion Lawsuits (Andrew DeMillo Analysis)

3 min read

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas lawmakers can’t say they weren’t warned.

As the Republican-led Legislature advanced a series of measures earlier this year restricting abortions, opponents repeatedly warned that the moves would prompt the types of legal challenges that have halted or overturned other bans enacted in recent years. Those groups are now following through on that threat, with a pair of lawsuits aimed at blocking five of those new restrictions before they take effect.

The challenges aren’t just intended to overturn restrictions in a state that has turned deeply red in recent years. They’re also meant to send a message to anti-abortion groups who view the solidly Republican legislature as an easy win for new efforts to limit the procedure that can be tested elsewhere.

“Arkansas politicians have passed extreme abortion bans that put their political agenda ahead of women’s health. No more. We’re fighting back,” Talcott Camp, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement announcing the lawsuits.

The ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights are focusing on four new laws approved this year, including a ban on a procedure known as dilation and evacuation. Abortion-rights supporters contend it’s the safest and most common procedure used in second-trimester abortions. They’re also challenging include a “sex-selection” abortion ban that the groups say would indefinitely delay a woman’s abortion by requiring doctors review her entire pregnancy procedure and a tissue disposal law that they say would effectively require notification of the woman’s sexual partner or parents before the procedure. The fourth law the group wants to halt expands the requirement that physicians performing abortions for patients under 14 take certain steps to preserve embryonic or fetal tissue and to notify local police where the minor resides.

Another lawsuit by Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Little Rock Family Planning Services focuses on a law requiring the state suspend or revoke the license of abortion providers for any rule or law violation. The new restrictions, the groups argue, unfairly target abortion providers.

The groups hope the challenges will join other recent victories they’ve seen in federal courts over Arkansas’ abortion restrictions. A 2013 law banning abortions 12 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy was ultimately struck down by federal courts, while Arkansas is appealing a judge’s order halting a 2013 restriction on how the abortion pill is administered. The state is also fighting a judge’s order blocking Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s decision to cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood over videos secretly shot by anti-abortion activists.

But they also come at a time that the political landscape in Arkansas and nationally are favoring restrictions on abortion. Arkansas’ measures easily advanced months after Republicans expanded their majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature, and abortion opponents have been heartened by the GOP’s control of the White House and Congress.

The conservative groups pushing for the restrictions are hopeful for a court win, but have said past challenges have left them with minor victories nonetheless. The Family Council, which backed the abortion restrictions, cited the court ruling striking down the 12-week abortion ban. The rulings striking down the ban left in place a portion of the law that requires doctors to check for a fetal heartbeat and notify the pregnant woman if one is present.

“I believe these lawsuits will simply pave the way for even better pro-life laws in the future_no matter how the courts rule,” Jerry Cox, head of the Family Council, said last week.

It may take some time before it’s clear whether these lawsuits are a stop sign for abortion opponents or merely a detour.

Andrew DeMillo has covered Arkansas government and politics for The Associated Press since 2005. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/ademillo.

(All contents © copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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