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Federal judge allows challenge to Arkansas abortion law to proceed

A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas [official website] on Wednesday rejected [order, PDF] Arkansas' attempt to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state's law banning abortions 12 weeks into a pregnancy. US District Judge Susan Webber Wright denied the motion to dismiss, ruling that the lawsuit made a strong enough case to warrant allowing it to go forward. The court also found that the abortion providers bringing the suit have standing. The case, challenging Act 301 [text, PDF] amending Arkansas law governing abortions, was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy websites] on behalf of two Little Rock abortion providers. Known as the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, Act 301 redefines "viability" as "a medical condition that begins with a detectible heartbeat." Currently, Arkansas law defines [text] a "viable fetus" as "a fetus which can live outside of the womb." The court found that there are sufficient facts alleged to state a claim that Act 301 impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to chose to terminate a pregnancy before viability.

In March the Arkansas legislature voted to override [JURIST report] Governor Mike Beebe's veto of the Human Heartbeat Protection Act. In February the Arkansas Senate also voted to override a veto [JURIST report]. Numerous states have changed their abortion laws recently to impose more restrictions on the availability of abortions, leading to several legal challenges. In December a state judge in Georgia enjoined a law [JURIST report] banning doctors from providing abortions for women more than 20 weeks into gestation, which would have gone into effect in January. Montana voters in November passed a referendum [JURIST report] requiring facilities and doctors to inform parents of minors 16 to 48 hours before a planned abortion procedure on the minor. Also that month the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on a challenge to Arizona's law which, like Arkansas and Georgia's laws, bans abortions after 20 weeks. Planned Parenthood [advocacy website] also sued Texas [JURIST report] in October claiming that its law preventing state funding from going to any clinics affiliated with providing abortions violates another state law.

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