- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Wednesday she’s asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutionality of a 12-week abortion ban struck down by a federal appeals panel earlier this year.

Rutledge, a Republican, announced she planned in the coming weeks to petition the nation’s highest court to uphold the law. A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May upheld a federal judge’s ruling striking down the ban. Rutledge’s request to have the case heard by the full appeals court was rejected in July.

“As attorney general, I have a duty to fully defend the State’s law, which prohibits abortions after 12 weeks of gestation when a heartbeat is detected,” Rutledge said in a statement. “But beyond my duty, I firmly believe that the state has a profound interest in protecting the lives of the unborn, which is exactly what this law does.”

In striking down the ban last year, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright said the abortion prohibition was unconstitutional and violated the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion until a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. A fetus is generally considered viable at 22 to 24 weeks.

The head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which had sued the state over the ban, said she didn’t believe the high court would agree to hear the case.

“It’s clear that the state is determined to undo 40 years of jurisprudence and overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that gave women the right to make their own personal private medical decisions when it comes to their own reproductive health care,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar said.

The restriction was approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2013. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who was governor at the time, had vetoed the 12-week ban, citing the viability standard. But Republicans, controlling the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, overrode him with a simple majority vote.

The 12-week ban had included exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders. Wright left in place a portion of the law that requires doctors to check for a fetal heartbeat and to notify the pregnant woman if one is present.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who has supported the ban, said the case could offer a chance to revisit the court’s precedent on abortion restrictions.

“The only hope of having a different decision is if the Supreme Court changes their previous framework and decisions in regards to abortion,” Hutchinson said. “That’s been a focal point of the pro-life movement is to have the Supreme Court reconsider some of these previous cases.”

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo .

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