Judge Blocks “Categorically Unconstitutional” Anti-Abortion Law in Arkansas

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked an Arkansas law, set to go into effect next week, that would have banned nearly all abortions in the state.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a preliminary injunction on the law, passed earlier this year by the GOP-controlled Arkansas legislature and signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas), blocking its enforcement while she hears challenges to its constitutionality. In her explanation on why she was temporarily restricting the law from being enforced, Baker made clear how she might eventually rule on it, describing the new rules on abortion that were set to go into effect in Arkansas as “categorically unconstitutional.”

“Since the record at this stage of the proceedings indicates that women seeking abortions in Arkansas face an imminent threat to their constitutional rights, the Court concludes that they will suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief,” Baker wrote.

The law, which would have been enforced starting July 28, would have made it a felony crime for any person to perform or attempt to perform an abortion in the state, except in medical emergencies for the person who was pregnant. The punishment for violating the law would be up to 10 years in prison.

The law would have left little recourse for those who wanted to get an abortion in the state, making no exceptions for allowing the procedure except where a pregnant person’s health was at risk.

In a statement praising the decision by Judge Baker to issue a preliminary injunction, Meagan Burrows, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project said that the Arkansas law was in violation of court precedents set on abortion.

“Arkansas pursued a clearly unconstitutional law that would disproportionately harm people of color, people who live in rural areas, and people with low incomes — all of whom already face significant barriers to accessing health care and higher risks of pregnancy-related death,” Burrows said. “The court’s ruling today should serve as a stark reminder to anti-abortion politicians in Arkansas and other states that they cannot strip people of their right to make the deeply personal decision about whether to have an abortion or continue a pregnancy.”

In a post from its Twitter account, Planned Parenthood also hailed the decision.

“Every person has a constitutionally protected right to access abortion care, including from trusted medical providers in Arkansas,” the organization said. “Access to health care is a basic human right, and every person deserves care that gives them control over their own bodies, lives, and futures.”

While Baker’s ruling halts new restrictions in Arkansas, many other challenges elsewhere are ongoing, as several state legislatures across the country, emboldened with hopes that conservative justices appointed to the Supreme Court by former President Donald Trump could overturn Roe v. Wade, the Court’s decision in 1973 that protected the right to abortion throughout the U.S.

The Supreme Court itself has already agreed to take a case on one state’s restrictions. The Court will hear deliberations later this year on an anti-abortion law in Mississippi, which bans the practice after 15 weeks of a person being pregnant. Many abortion rights activists are deeply concerned that the Supreme Court could greatly weaken the protections held in Roe v. Wade, or overturn that ruling altogether, due to the current 6-3 conservative makeup of justices.

“The consequences of a Roe reversal would be devastating. Over 20 states would prohibit abortion outright,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement earlier this year about the Court’s decision to hear the case.