A federal judge temporarily blocked three anti-abortion laws in Arkansas only minutes before they were set to take effect Wednesday, including a measure banning the procedure after 18 weeks of pregnancy and a requirement advocates say would had led to the closure of Little Rock Family Planning Services, the only clinic in the state offering surgical abortion care.
The measures are being challenged by the clinic, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, and other groups. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a 159-page ruling blocking the measures for the next 14 days, saying they would "cause ongoing and imminent irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and their patients."
The measures are three of 12 anti-abortion bills Arkansas lawmakers have passed this past legislative session alone. House Bill 1439 banned the procedure after 18 weeks of pregnancy, Senate Bill 2 made it a felony for health providers to perform an abortion if they believed the woman asked for her pregnancy to be terminated because fetal Down Syndrome was detected, and Senate Bill 448 required that physicians who perform surgical abortions be board-certified and board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology.
Advocates said SB 448 would have done the most damage to Arkansans' abortion access. The state currently only has two abortion providers, Planned Parenthood and Little Rock Family Planning Services, both of which are based in Little Rock. According to the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood only offers medication-induced abortions, which are offered up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy. At Family Planning Services, which does offer surgical abortion care, the only provider isn't OB/GYN board-eligible or certified. If SB 448 were to go into effect, about 1,800 Arkansans a year — or 66% of those seeking to terminate their pregnancies in the state — would not be able to access abortions, according to evidence introduced before the court.
Arkansas ranks #49 nationwide when it comes to healthcare, according to a U.S. News & World Report ranking published earlier this year. Baker's decision comes at a moment when anti-choice lawmakers around the country are attacking access to abortion at an unprecedented pace. According to the Guttmacher Institute, at least 378 abortion restrictions were introduced between January 1 and May 20 of this year, 40% of which seek to ban the procedure.