Arkansas Judge Strikes Down Heartbeat-Based Abortion Ban
U.S. district Judge Susan Webber Wright said the law was unconstitutional, on the grounds that only a doctor can determine whether or not an unborn child can live outside of its mother.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A U.S. district court’s ruling against Arkansas’ fetal heartbeat-based abortion restrictions disappointed pro-life advocates, but they said the effort still helps the unborn.
State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, who sponsored the legislation, said that, despite the ruling, the law was still “a win for the pro-life movement” because of its other provisions.
“When people have to face the reality that there’s a living heartbeat in their womb, that will make them rethink about taking the life away from their baby,” he told The Associated Press.
Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas-based Family Council, said advocacy for the law was still worthwhile.
“I believe the only way we’re going to change things for the better is by challenging the status quo of abortion,” Cox said, according to ArkansasNews.com.
The March 2013 law would have barred most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, on the grounds that the unborn child has a heartbeat at that point. The legislation would have created the strictest restrictions on abortion in any U.S. state.
U.S. district Judge Susan Webber Wright, in a March 14 decision, said the law was unconstitutional, on the grounds that only a doctor can determine whether or not an unborn child can live outside of its mother.
The judge stated that viability, an unborn child’s ability to survive outside of its mother, rather than heartbeat, should determine whether abortions should be allowed. Viability is typically placed at around 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Her decision said that legal precedent means only “viability ‘begins’ with a heartbeat,” and precedent “does not declare that viability is fully achieved with the advent of a heartbeat.”
She added that the Supreme Court has “stressed that it is not the proper function of the legislature or the courts to place viability at a specific point in the gestation period.”
Laws based on fetal heartbeat, she wrote, “would undoubtedly contravene the Supreme Court’s determination that viability in a particular case is a matter for medical judgment.” She said viability is attained when “there is a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival outside the womb.”
She added that the state “presents no evidence that a fetus can live outside the mother’s womb at 12 weeks.”
Last year, Webber Wright halted the law’s enforcement pending judicial review. She left in place other parts of the law that require doctors to search for a fetal heartbeat and to tell the mother if a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Before the law passed, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the bill, saying its lack of a viability standard would lead to legal challenges. The state Legislature overrode his veto.
The state attorney general’s spokesman, Aaron Sadler, told The Associated Press March 14 that Webber Wright’s decision was “not a surprise.” As of March 14, the attorney general had not decided whether to appeal the decision.
Sen. Rapert urged an appeal, saying that a national pro-life organization has volunteered to defend the law at no cost to state taxpayers if it is designated special counsel.