LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A federal appeals court on Friday lifted a judge's ruling that has blocked four Arkansas abortion restrictions from taking effect, including a ban on a common second trimester procedure and a fetal remains law that opponents say would effectively require a partner’s consent before a woman could get an abortion.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the 2017 preliminary injunction issued against the restrictions. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights had challenged the measures, suing on behalf of Dr. Frederick Hopkins, a Little Rock abortion provider.
The appeals panel said the case needs to be reconsidered in light of a recent decision on abortion by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The laws U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker blocked include a ban on a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, which abortion rights supporters say it is the safest and most common procedure used in second-trimester abortions. The state calls it barbaric and “dismemberment abortion,” saying it can have emotional consequences for the women who undergo it.
Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge praised the appeals court's ruling.
“Arkansas has taken a strong stance to protect the unborn from inhumane treatment,” Rutledge said in a statement. “As Arkansas’s chief legal officer, I have always advocated for the lives of unborn children and will continue to defend our state’s legal right to protect the unborn."
The 2017 decision also blocked new restrictions on the disposal of fetal tissue collected during abortions. The plaintiffs argued that it could also block access by requiring notification of a third party, such as the woman’s parents or her sexual partner, to determine what happens to the fetal remains.
The other restrictions included one that bans abortions based solely on the fetus’ sex and another that requires physicians performing abortions for patients under 14 to take certain steps to preserve embryonic or fetal tissue and notify police where the minor resides.
Abortion rights groups said they're weighing options to ensure the restrictions remain blocked after Aug. 28, when the appeals court decision takes effect.
“This ruling is a reminder that the fight against these extreme abortion restrictions is far from won," Holly Dickson, interim executive director and legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement. “We are evaluating our next steps and will continue to fight to ensure these harmful and unconstitutional laws do not take effect.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling cited by the appeals court panel struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics. The appeals court said Baker needs to consider a concurring opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts that said state legislatures have wide discretion.
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