Federal Appeals Court Reverses Ruling that Blocked Arkansas Abortion Restrictions

The lawsuit, brought by the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights, challenges multiple state laws that push abortion care out of reach

August 7, 2020 12:30 pm

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today in a challenge to various Arkansas laws designed to push abortion care out of reach, reversing the lower court’s decision to block the laws, and sending the case back to the lower court for further proceedings in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in June Medical Services v. Russo.

Today’s decision lifts the lower court’s preliminary injunction, and sends the case back down to the district court for further consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s recent abortion decision. The ruling will not take effect for 21 days, meaning the laws will remain blocked until August 28.

The laws at issue in this case were passed to:

  • ban a safe and medically proven abortion method;
  • require the patient notify their partner or other family members and effectively allow them to block their abortion;
  • create new, needless, and burdensome requirements to report a patient’s abortion to local police in a way that invades the patient and family’s medical privacy — on top of the already robust mandatory reporting to state authorities; and
  • force doctors to request a vast number of medical records with no medical justification, all in an attempt to burden providers, violate physician-patient confidentiality, and delay or outright block care.

If allowed to take effect, these restrictions would completely block many people from obtaining abortion care, and would eventually leave the state with even more limited abortion care.

“We are disappointed with today’s decision, but we will keep fighting to prevent these egregious laws that Arkansas politicians have tried to impose on people seeking abortion in the state to ban or block them from getting care,” said Ruth Harlow, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “All options are on the table to keep the laws blocked after August 28.”

“These onerous restrictions were designed with the singular intent to take away the right to abortion and punish people for seeking care,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas legal director and interim executive director. “This ruling is a reminder that the fight against these extreme abortion restrictions is far from won. We are evaluating our next steps and will continue to fight to ensure these harmful and unconstitutional laws do not take effect.”

“We will exhaust our legal options to make sure these laws do not take effect,” said Hillary Schneller, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “There is no question that these laws would make it harder to access abortion in Arkansas. The Supreme Court just weeks ago reaffirmed that a state cannot pass laws that unduly burden a person’s access to abortion, and that is exactly what these laws do.”

These laws are just four of the more than 463 restrictions states have passed on abortion since 2011. Just three months ago, the state of Arkansas moved to ban abortion procedures during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic by labeling abortion care as non-essential, despite opposition from leading national medical groups.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of Arkansas, and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Frederick W. Hopkins, M.D. M.P.H.

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