Liberal activists have filed a court challenge to an Arkansas law that would prohibit most abortions after 12 weeks if a fetal heartbeat could be heard.
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arkansas, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of two abortion providers, asking the court to block the law from taking effect.
"This law is one of the most dangerous assaults on women's health that we've seen in decades," said Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. "We may not all agree about abortion, but we can all agree that this complex and personal decision should be made by a woman, her family and her doctor — not politicians."
"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," said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "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."
The Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act is the first "fetal heartbeat" law to be enacted in the nation. It is set to take effect in mid-July.
Arkansas lawmakers said the legislation "squares" with other state laws regarding fetal protections and should withstand court challenges.
"We believe that because we put it at 12 weeks, it will survive a court challenge. We are setting it at the end of the first trimester," Arkansas state Rep. Ann V. Clemmer, a Republican, said when the bill passed the General Assembly in early March.
The law permits abortions after 12 weeks if no fetal heartbeat is heard, in cases where pregnancies are the result of rape or incest, in medical emergencies threatening the life of the woman, and when the fetus has a "highly lethal" disorder.
The Arkansas court case is brought by Dr. Louis Jerry Edwards and Dr. Tom Tvedten and will be heard by U.S. District Judge James M. Moody in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock.
The law violates "over 40 years" of settled U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which says women have the right to be free from unwarranted intrusion by politicians into their decisions about whether to carry a pre-viable pregnancy to term, the complaint said.
The law denies the doctors their constitutionally guaranteed right to decide to end a pre-viability pregnancy, and causes them to face "the severe sanction of license revocation for providing abortion care starting at 12 weeks of pregnancy," adds the complaint, which seeks preliminary and permanent injunction of the law.
Dr. Joseph M. Beck and 13 other members of the Arkansas State Medical Board are named as defendants.
Pro-life supporters are not in agreement about the merits of the "heartbeat" bills. Many prefer laws that block most abortions after 20 weeks, because that is when fetuses are thought to be capable of feeling pain and is closer to "viability" gestation.
However, many pro-lifers are tired of incremental and marginal approaches — most abortions occur before 20 weeks of gestation — and are eager for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the abortion issue in light of scientific discoveries about fetal life and development. "They didn't have that kind of information when they decided Roe v. Wade," Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
About 88 percent of abortions take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Separately, elected officials in North Dakota recently enacted a law banning most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. This means abortions could be outlawed as early as six weeks of gestation.
A court challenge is expected on the North Dakota law as well.
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