Federal Appeals Court Upholds District Court Order Blocking Two Arkansas Abortion Bans

The bans would have prevented people in Arkansas from obtaining abortion care in direct violation of binding Supreme Court precedent

January 5, 2021 5:00 pm

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LITTLE ROCK — The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the state of Arkansas today, upholding a lower court order blocking two abortion bans from taking effect: a ban on abortion starting at 18 weeks of pregnancy, and a ban on abortion based on a patient’s reason for seeking care. The Eighth Circuit held that by taking the ultimate decision of whether to have an abortion out of the patient’s hands, the bans directly conflict with Supreme Court precedent which requires that each patient, not politicians, maintain control of that decision.

“Today’s ruling recognizes that it is up to each person, not politicians, to make the ultimate decision of whether and when to have a child,” said Meagan Burrows, a staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “We wish that this were the end of the matter, but unfortunately we know that there is still much work to do to stop the legislature’s relentless attempts to take that right away from patients.”

“This ruling is a victory for all Arkansans and a decisive repudiation of Arkansas politicians’ ongoing crusade to deny people the right to make their own medical decisions and force them to continue pregnancies against their will,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “While today’s ruling is critical, the broader fight to ensure that people have decided to have an abortion can actually get one is far from over. We will continue to defend the right of every Arkansan to make their own decisions about their lives and their health — free from political interference or punishment.”

“The only people qualified to determine what kind of care our patients need are our providers and the patients themselves,” said Lori Williams, clinic director at Little Rock Family Planning Services, a plaintiff in this case. “This ruling will ensure that we can continue to meet the health care needs of Arkansans without anti-abortion politicians interfering.”

“Today’s decision recognizes what the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld: every person has a constitutionally protected right to access care, including from trusted medical providers here in Arkansas. Abortion is essential medical care that should not be caught in the crosshairs of political agendas,” said Brandon Hill, PhD, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “Access to health care is a basic human right, and Planned Parenthood Great Plains will always be there for our patients. We trust our patients to make their own medical decisions, and we trust our providers to offer high-quality care, no matter what.”

“We’re proud to work with the ACLU and Planned Parenthood to protect reproductive rights in Arkansas,” said OMelveny counsel Kendall Turner. “Because of this decision, people in Arkansas will continue to be able to exercise their constitutionally protected right to access to abortion care.”

The laws at issue in this case are just three of several passed by the state of Arkansas in recent years in an attempt to push abortion out of reach—part of a nationwide, coordinated strategy that has driven states to pass more than 460 laws restricting access to abortion since 2011. The state of Arkansas also recently temporarily banned procedural abortions entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing patients to travel out of state or remain pregnant against their will during a global health crisis. And an Arkansas politician has already pre-filed a bill to be considered by the state legislature this year that would ban all abortions in the state. In addition, in a separate lawsuit, the ACLU and the ACLU of Arkansas, together with the Center for Reproductive Rights, have blocked another four restrictions passed in 2017.

This lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of Arkansas, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning Services, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, and two physician providers. The O’Melveny team was led by partner Leah Godesky, with counsel Kendall Turner arguing before the Eighth Circuit.

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