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Federal judge strikes down Arkansas abortion law

A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Friday that a state law [Act 301, PDF] banning most abortions after 12 weeks into a woman's pregnancy is unconstitutional. Judge Susan Webber Wright temporarily blocked Act 301 last year, and allowed [JURIST reports] a challenge against the law to proceed. On Friday, Wright struck down the law, declaring [AP report] that abortions cannot be restricted until a fetus reaches viability, which is typically around 22-24 weeks. Wright also emphasized that doctors, rather than legislators, should determine when viability occurs. However, Wright left in place a part of the law that requires doctors to check for a fetal heartbeat.

Abortion continues to be a hot-button legal, political and moral issue within the ongoing debate over reproductive rights [JURIST backgrounder]. A number of states have proposed laws to make abortions illegal after 20 weeks. Last week the West Virginia legislature approved a bill [JURIST report] to prohibit abortions later than 20 weeks after conception. In February the Mississippi House approved [JURIST report] a 20-week abortion ban. In January the US Supreme Court declined to rule on Arizona's attempt to revive its 20-week ban on abortions after having it was stuck down [JURIST reports] on constitutional grounds by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last May. The US House of Representatives voted [JURIST report] in favor of a federal law banning 20-week abortions in June, but the bill failed [WP report] to gain widespread support in the Democratic-controlled US Senate.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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