The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has blocked a harsh abortion ban in Arkansas that seeks to ban the procedure after just 12 weeks of pregnancy, significantly before the point of viability that serves as the current cut-off point for legal abortion services under Roe v. Wade.
In 2013, Arkansas lawmakers overrode their governor to approve the 12-week ban — which, at the time, represented the strictest abortion ban that had ever passed on the state level. Arkansas didn’t have that title for long; North Dakota quickly surpassed it by approving a six-week ban later that year.
This particular law has never been allowed to take effect in Arkansas. It was previously blocked, and later permanently struck down, by a federal judge. But state lawmakers have continued to appeal those decisions.
Extremely stringent abortion bans typically don’t survive court challenges. Although the science surrounding viability is complicated, and Roe doesn’t set forth a clear line in the sand, appeals courts across the country have so far agreed that state lawmakers may not dramatically narrow the window for legal abortion services.
Twenty-week abortion bans, which rely on the scientifically dubious theory that fetuses start feeling pain at that point, provide one exception. By shaving off just a few weeks from the protections laid out under Roe v. Wade, abortion opponents have landed on a legal strategy that has a much better chance of being upheld by the courts. Since 2013, more than a dozen states — including Arkansas — have banned abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. U.S. lawmakers are currently advancing a national version of this legislation.
Though Arkansas officials keep asking courts’ permission to enact the 12-week abortion ban, the state has also found plenty of other ways to impede residents’ access to the procedure. This spring, the Arkansas legislature led the nation in the number of abortion restrictions proposed on the state level.
Lawmakers approved a range of measures this session designed to make it more difficult to obtain an abortion — including stripping funding from Planned Parenthood, toughening requirements for parental consent, and restricting the use of the abortion pill. In April, Arkansas also approved an unprecedented law that requires doctors to tell women about an unproven theory regarding “abortion reversal,” effectively enshrining junk science into law.