A controversial Arkansas law aiming to ban most abortions by the 12th week of pregnancy has been shelved by a federal judge in lieu of pending legal challenges.
On Friday, US District Judge Susan Webber Wright granted a request for a preliminary injunction against the Human Heartbeat Protection Act – a law which was enacted over the veto of Governor Mike Beebe and was slated to go into effect on August 16.
Overall, the measure seeks to ban abortions at the 12th week of pregnancies if doctors are able to detect a fetal heartbeat via an abdominal ultrasound.
The law makes exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, along with medical emergencies to save the mother’s life.
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Before her decision Friday, Wright heard arguments from lawyers representing two Arkansas abortion care providers who asked the federal judge to block the law – known as Act 301 - while they challenge its legality under both the federal Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
Opponents of the bill have maintained the measure contradicts the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled abortion could be legal up until a fetus could viably survive outside the womb – a period typically around 22 to 24 months.
“Enforcement of the act would deny roughly 20 percent of Arkansas women seeking constitutionally-protected, pre-viability abortion care their right to access that care,” they said in an April 16 filing.
Others, such as Republican state Senator Jason Rapert, offered a different perspective.
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"When there is a heartbeat, there is life," said Rapert, a lead sponsor of the ban. "And it is time in this nation and in our state, when you have 55 million human beings that have been taken, we must have a more rational and a more humane policy in abortion in our nation."
Previously, the state’s Republican-led legislature trumped the veto of Democratic Gov. Beebe back in March to enact the law. Just weeks later, the attorneys for the abortion care providers sued in an effort to receive an injunction – a ruling that would ultimately block the ban’s enforcement.
Although Wright didn’t decide Friday whether the ban was constitutional she is expected to make that decision at a future date.