Federal Courts Block Abortion Bans in Arizona, Arkansas

By Brett Snider, Esq. on May 21, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Two states have had their early abortion bans blocked in federal court this month, and although Arizona and Arkansas laws are among the first early abortion laws to receive a real federal judicial treatment, they won't be the last.

Many states have been able to push through legislation that complies with Roe v. Wade but still limits abortions, like Texas' pre-abortion ultrasounds. So how did these laws not pass federal muster?

Arizona's 20-Week Abortion Ban

The Arizona law in question makes it illegal to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in the case of a medical emergency. The law also requires all women to submit to a pre-abortion ultrasound.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down this ban Tuesday, stating that it violates Roe v. Wade and its related cases, reports the Associated Press. For example, U.S. Supreme Court precedent provides that a woman can exercise her constitutional right to an abortion before a fetus is viable without undue state interference.

In its ruling, the NInth Circuit reasoned that prior to fetal viability -- which typically begins at about 24 weeks -- the state lacks a strong enough interest to prevent a woman from exercising her right to an abortion. Therefore, the 20-week abortion ban must be struck down.

This decision affects all states within the Ninth Circuit, including Idaho which passed a similar ban, according to the AP.

Arkansas' 12-Week Abortion Ban

A separate federal court ruling dealt with Arkansas' ban on abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Arkansas lawmakers passed the ban in March.

But on Friday, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction after hearing arguments from abortion-rights advocates, reports Politico.

The injunction will prevent Arkansas' Human Heartbeat Protection Act from being enforced until the case has been decided, but it is uncertain whether the Arkansas federal court will follow the Ninth Circuit and strike the law down.

The U.S. Supreme Court set the line for legal abortions at viability in Roe v. Wade four decades ago. With this new spate of early abortion laws, they may soon be called on to redefine that line.

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