The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging new Arkansas regulations that restrict abortions in the state, arguing that the new laws place inordinate burdens on women who seek abortion care.
The lawsuit aims to block four Arkansas laws that are scheduled to take effect later this year, among them a ban on a common abortion method during a woman’s second trimester of pregnancy known as dilation and extraction.
The regulations also would prompt providers to notify — and seek consent from — a woman’s partner or family member before an abortion and would increase the amount of medical records doctors must request before an abortion to ensure a woman is not seeking an abortion based on the gender of the fetus. The new Arkansas laws also would require providers to more extensively collect and preserve fetal tissue from abortions performed on minors, should local police need it for evidence in an investigation, according to the lawsuit.
“In Arkansas, legislators have passed laws that amount to an outright ban on abortion for many women, and would force women to endure invasions, investigations and insults just to get the care they decided they need,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.
In addition to Arkansas, Texas lawmakers recently enacted a similar ban on abortions by dilation and extraction — except for in cases when women face serious medical risks — as have West Virginia and Mississippi. To carry out the procedure, doctors dismember the fetus and remove it from the womb.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed the abortion procedure ban into law in January. Of the 3,207 abortions performed in Arkansas in 2016, about 570 were carried out with the method the Arkansas law will ban, according to state health data.
State abortion opponents made banning the method a priority in the most recent legislative session, said Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life. Mimms said she believes such laws will withstand U.S. Supreme Court scrutiny, comparing them to the 2007 Supreme Court ruling on partial birth abortion bans.
A separate lawsuit, filed by Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Little Rock Family Planning Services, challenges an Arkansas law that allows the state Department of Health to close abortion clinics if they are found in violation of any state law or regulation, no matter how minor. Arkansas has three abortion clinics.
Abortion providers and advocates consider such laws to be “targeted regulation of abortion providers,” or TRAPs. The U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a Texas law that required abortion clinic doctors to receive admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and adopt standards similar to those of surgical centers. In states including Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma, abortion clinics that failed to comply with similar requirements were at risk of being shuttered.
Mimms said that such laws aim to protect women from unsafe practices.
“The more regulations, the better,” Mimms said. “We need to protect these women who go into these abortion clinics.”
Since the Supreme Court ruling, some states consider laws targeting clinics legally risky, Janet Crepps, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. For instance, the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked a state law in December that would have required abortion providers to establish relationships with hospitals.
Arkansas already has several abortion restrictions, including a 48-hour waiting period, said Lori Williams, clinical director with Little Rock Family Planning in Arkansas. Women seeking abortions often have to travel to clinics for two separate visits, Williams said.
“Burdening providers and bullying women does nothing to advance or protect women’s health,” Williams said.