Federal judge blocks Arkansas from enforcing extreme abortion laws

Arkansas has become a trendsetter in particularly draconian abortion restrictions.

Pro-life and anti-abortion activists converge in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, during the annual March for Life. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Pro-life and anti-abortion activists converge in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, during the annual March for Life. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

A federal judge has blocked Arkansas from enforcing several extreme abortion restrictions that reproductive rights advocates say would have had a devastating effect on patients.

The preliminary injunction from U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker on Friday ensures that four new laws will not go into effect on Tuesday — including a controversial law that could require patients to get permission from their sexual partners or family members before proceeding with an abortion.

“Arkansas women can feel a little relief today, knowing that these laws are blocked from taking effect,” Rita Sklar, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said in a statement.

The ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights sued Arkansas on behalf of an abortion provider in the state to block the measures.

Baker’s ruling affects four different state laws that each takes a different tact to restricting abortion access.

The first and most headline-grabbing measure could result in abortion patients needing to seek their family members’ permission before getting an abortion. On its face, the law imposes additional requirements on fetal tissue disposal after an abortion procedure. But because the measure does this by adding fetuses to an existing Arkansas law that stipulates family members have to agree about how to handle remains, in practice it could run into issues of notification and consent. First, it would force abortion doctors to notify patients’ family members to involve them in the decision about fetal tissue. Then, those family members could block the procedure from proceeding by refusing to provide the doctor with information about how they would prefer the tissue to be handled.


In her decision, Baker wrote that she agrees there would be serious real-world consequences of the fetal disposal law, especially if women are forced to tell their abusers about getting an abortion. “The law mandates disclosure to a woman’s partner or spouse, even if that person is no longer in her life or is a perpetrator of sexual assault,” she wrote.

She also concluded that the additional fetal tissue requirements don’t advance any public health goal — and will instead result in delays in patients being able to go through with abortion procedures.

In addition to that measure, Baker halted a second law that would ban a common and safe procedure for performing a second-trimester abortion, which fits into a bigger national trend as GOP lawmakers seek to limit access to later abortion procedures; a third law that would ban abortions based on the fetuses’ sex; and a fourth law that would expand requirements to preserve fetal tissue for teenage patients in between 14 and 17.

Arkansas lawmakers have recently forged ahead with creative attempts to limit access to abortion, and experts say these four laws represent a particularly extreme front in the state-level battle for abortion rights.


“With this package of laws, we’re definitely seeing a new, creative and especially cruel attempt by Arkansas to make abortion more difficult, if not impossible for women to access — and to stigmatize and demean them in the meantime,” Hillary Schneller, a Center for Reproductive Rights attorney, told NBC News earlier this month when the group filed suit.

All told, abortion rights face an assault at the state level. During the first six months of this year, 28 states introduced legislation to impose some type of ban on abortion, while six states tried to outlaw the procedure entirely, according to a recent report from the Guttmacher Institute.