Arkansas Doctors Ask Court to Block State’s New Abortion Rules

Two doctors are set to ask a U.S. judge to block the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, an Arkansas law banning most abortions at the 12th week of pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

The measure, which contains exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, medical emergencies and to save the life of the mother, was enacted over the veto of Governor Mike Beebe, and would take effect after Aug. 16.

Lawyers for the physicians today will ask U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright in Little Rock, Arkansas, to block the measure while they challenge its legality under the federal Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

“Enforcement of the act would deny roughly 20 percent of Arkansas women seeking constitutionally-protected, pre-viability abortion care their right to access that care,” they said in an April 16 filing.

The plaintiffs, Louis Jerry Edwards and Tom Tvedten, are each abortion care providers affiliated with Little Rock Family Planning Services, a clinic in the state’s capital city.

Violations of the act are punishable by the revocation of a doctor’s medical license, according to their complaint filed April 16 by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel opposed the bid to block enforcement in papers filed with Webber Wright on May 7, arguing the measure, known as Act 301, is constitutional. He also asked the judge to dismiss the case.

Constitutional Challenge

She denied that request on May 15, finding the doctors had adequately pleaded their constitutional challenge and had legal standing to pursue it, setting the stage for today’s hearing.

“Act 301 does not prohibit any woman from terminating her pregnancy in the first trimester, when the vast majority of abortions are performed,” McDaniel said.

The measure defines viability as that point when a heartbeat is detectable, not when a fetus can survive outside the womb, Webber Wright said in denying the state’s dismissal request.

U.S. Supreme Court precedent defines viability as that point when there’s a realistic chance of being able to keep a fetus alive outside its mother’s womb, she said.

The doctors alleged facts sufficient to support their claim that those parts of Act 301 banning abortions at 12 weeks’ gestation violate a woman’s right to end a pre-viability pregnancy, Webber Wright said.

The case in Arkansas is Edwards v. Beck, 13-cv-00224, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas (Little Rock).

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