Arkansas' 12-Week Abortion Ban Faces Legal Fight

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on March 07, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Arkansas' newly passed ban on abortions after 12 weeks is the strictest in the nation, and it was passed shortly after an Idaho law banning abortions after 20 weeks was overturned.

Arkansas' measure was passed on Wednesday with enough support to override the governor's veto of the law. It prohibits abortions from the time a fetal heartbeat can be detected, at around 12 weeks. It's scheduled to take effect in August.

The law does provide exceptions for rape, incest, the health of the mother, and in the case of major fetal conditions. But it's still expected to receive legal challenges.

Abortion was made legal in the United States with the famous decision in Roe v. Wade. Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has clarified how and when states can limit the right to an abortion.

Generally speaking, states can't place limits on a woman's right to have an abortion during the first trimester (about the first 13 weeks). During the second trimester (around 14 to 27 weeks) states can place requirements on certain aspects of abortion, but they can't ban the procedure outright.

A woman's right to choose an abortion is generally limited to the first and second trimester.

Once the fetus becomes viable, sometime toward the end of the second trimester, the state can ban abortion. At that point, most states do prohibit it.

Earlier this year, another Arkansas law banned abortions that take place after 20 weeks. But right now, opponents are focused on challenging the new 12-week legislation.

The Idaho decision, which was announced the same day Arkansas' law passed, relied on Supreme Court precedent. It noted that states are not allowed to impose an undue burden or a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion, reports Bloomberg.

The federal court determined that Idaho's ban on abortions after 20 weeks is a substantial obstacle and violates women's right to choose. That could potentially spell trouble for the Arkansas law.

The Idaho decision is not binding on federal courts in Arkansas, because the two courts are in different judicial districts. But the Supreme Court case cited is binding on both of them.

Arkansas' Republican lawmakers may be celebrating the passage of the measure, but the ACLU is already planning to challenge it in court, reports Reuters. That means it may be a while before this issue is settled.

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