A federal judge on Tuesday blocked an Arkansas law banning nearly all abortions in the state while she heard a challenge to its constitutionality.
US District Judge Kristine Baker wrote the ban was "categorically unconstitutional" as it bans abortions before a fetus would be considered viable.
Baker issued a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of the law, which was set to take effect on July 28. The measure was passed this year by the majority-Republican Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
"Since the record at this stage of the proceedings indicates that women seeking abortions in Arkansas face an imminent threat to their constitutional rights, the court concludes that they will suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief," Baker wrote.
Arkansas Governor had Signed Near-Total Abortion Ban into Law
On March 9 2021, Hutchinson had signed the abortion bill, known as SB6, which prohibits abortion "in all cases except to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency." However, opponents had vowed to block before it takes effect later this year. Hutchinson said he was signing the bill because of its "overwhelming legislative support and my sincere and long-held pro-life convictions."
Speaking on CNN's State of the Union on, Hutchinson had said the new Arkansas law, which only allows abortions to protect the life of the mother, was designed as a vehicle for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, which struck down several Texas laws that criminalized abortion.
"We're relieved that the court has blocked another cruel and harmful attempt to criminalize abortion care and intrude on Arkansans' deeply personal medical decisions," Holly Dickson, executive director for the ACLU of Arkansas said in statement to the AP.
Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said Baker's decision "demonstrates that the court fully understands the harmful and immediate effects this law would have on Arkansans."
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican whose office had defended the law, was disappointed with Baker's decision, a spokeswoman said.
"She will be reviewing it to consider the appropriate next step to protect the life of the unborn," spokeswoman Stephanie Sharp said in an email.
Nation's Strictest Abortion Law in Arkansas
According to media reports, Arkansas had an abortion ban in place in the 1900s. Changes to abortion laws took place sometime in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Arkansas this year enacted 20 abortion restrictions, the most in a single state since Louisiana adopted that many in 1978, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports reproductive rights, reported AP.
The total number of abortion clinics in the state has been declining for years, going from thirteen in 1982 to eight in 1992 to three in 2014. In 2014, 4,024 legal abortions took place in the state. This had declined in 2015 to 3,805. People from Arkansas participated in the #StoptheBans movement in May 2019.