U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled that the law
"impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to
elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability" of the fetus, as
established by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Webber had previously barred enforcement of the measure while she
reviewed a legal challenge to it brought by two Arkansas abortion
As enacted, the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act would have
banned most abortions at or after 12 weeks of pregnancy, if a fetal
heartbeat could be detected by standard ultrasound.
Doctors who were found to violate the statute risked having their
licenses revoked by the state medical board.
Exemptions were allowed in cases where the pregnancy resulted from
rape or incest, if the life of the mother were in danger, or in
cases of a gross fetal abnormality that made its survival
Webber's decision let stand the law's requirement that a woman
seeking an abortion first undergo an ultrasound to determine whether
a fetal heartbeat is present.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the doctors in
the lawsuit, applauded Wright's ruling.
"This ban would have inserted politicians into the deeply personal
medical decisions of Arkansas women," said Rita Sklar, president of
the organization's Arkansas chapter.
State Senator Jason Rapert, the primary sponsor of the measure, said
he was "disturbed" by the ruling but added that the outcome "was not
unexpected because of the posture of our courts for the last 40
Rapert said he nonetheless was gratified that Wright had let stand
"one of the strongest informed consent laws in the nation."
[to top of second column]
Governor Mike Beebe of Arkansas, a Democrat, vetoed the law after it
was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March
2013, citing its conflict with Supreme Court doctrine, but his veto
The Arkansas attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, who had echoed
Beebe's reservations about the bill, said he had not decided whether
the state would appeal Wright's decision.
Rapert said he had urged McDaniel to defend the law, and said a
national anti-abortion organization had volunteered to undertake the
appeal "at no cost to the Arkansas taxpayers" if the attorney
general would designate the group as "special counsel."
Alabama lawmakers earlier this month approved similar legislation.
North Dakota passed a fetal heartbeat law last year that critics
said could effectively ban abortions as early as six weeks after
conception, but that measure was blocked by a federal judge in July.
About a dozen states, including Arkansas, have enacted prohibitions
on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, though some of those
measures have also been enjoined by federal courts.
(Reporting by Steve Barnes; editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa
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