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Lawsuit Filed to Block Arkansas 12-Week Abortion Ban

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in federal court to block Arkansas' 12-week abortion ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Arkansas, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit Tuesday asking a federal court to block an Arkansas law that would ban almost all abortion care starting at 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two physicians who provide abortion care at a Little Rock clinic, and argues that the Arkansas law violates the U.S. Constitution by banning pre-viability abortions.

SB 134 was enacted in March after a protracted legislative battle. Gov. Mike Beebe (D) originally vetoed the measure, but two days following that veto both houses in the state legislature voted to override his veto. The law is set to take effect on July 18, 2013, and this legal challenge seeks to block the law before then.

“This law is one of the most dangerous assaults on women’s health that we’ve seen in decades,” Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement.

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At the time the Arkansas legislature overrode Gov. Beebe’s veto and enacted SB 134, it was the most severe abortion ban in the country. But then, a mere one week later, North Dakota passed a ban that applies so early in a pregnancy that many women may not even know they’re pregnant.

“The Arkansas law is one of the worst, but around the country politicians are trying to eliminate access to abortion care and to interfere with a woman’s ability to make the best decision for herself and her family,” Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. “Now is the time for all of us who care about women’s health in this country to tell our elected officials that we won’t stand for this political intrusion into our personal and private decisions.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, summed up what the Arkansas suit represents. “The promise of the U.S. Constitution is that the rights it encompasses are guaranteed equally to all Americans, regardless of where they live or who sits in power at their statehouses and legislatures,” said Northrup in a statement. “Politicians hostile to women’s constitutional rights in Arkansas have cast that promise aside. They have consigned the women of their state to a second class of citizens whose rights are lesser than those who live in states that protect reproductive freedom.”

The lawsuit is one move in what is shaping up to be a long year of legal battles thanks to the increasingly restrictive anti-abortion laws coming out of the 2013 legislative session. On Monday, a federal court again blocked Mississippi’s attempts to close the state’s only clinic, and legal challenges to medication abortion bans are pending in both North Dakota and Wisconsin.

A hearing on the lawsuit has not yet been scheduled, but attorneys representing the plaintiffs made it clear they were prepared for the fight ahead. “No politician has the authority to vote the fundamental rights of his or her fellow citizens away,” Stephanie Toti, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “We fully expect the court to immediately strike down this legislative assault on the U.S. Constitution and 40 years of Supreme Court precedent.”

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