LITTLE ROCK — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it would not hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down a 20-week abortion ban in Arizona, a development that opponents of Arkansas’ new abortion restrictions said was encouraging even though it is not binding on federal courts here.
Supporters of Arkansas’ abortion laws said they were not discouraged because the Arizona law differs from the Arkansas statutes adopted in 2013.
The Arkansas Legislature approved a measure banning most abortions at 12 weeks and another banning most abortions at 20 weeks. Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed both bills, saying they were unconstitutional, but lawmakers overturned both vetoes in bipartisan votes.
The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights have filed a lawsuit challenging the 12-week abortion ban, which has not taken effect because of a preliminary injunction issued in the case.
The 20-week ban has not been challenged in court and is in effect, though the ACLU has said it will challenge that law if it becomes the basis for denying anyone an abortion. Most abortions are performed earlier than 20 weeks into a pregnancy.
ACLU attorney Bettina Brownstein said Monday the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to reconsider the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling striking down Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban is a good sign for the ACLU’s cause. The 9th Circuit said the law ran afoul of case law establishing that states cannot ban abortions before a fetus becomes able to live outside the womb, which generally occurs about 24 weeks into a pregnancy.
“It’s really good, but it’s not binding on Arkansas. But it is persuasive, I would say,” Brownstein said.
Federal court rulings in Arkansas are appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
Arkansas’ 20-week ban asserts that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks of gestation and that its purpose is to protect a fetus from pain. Its sponsor, Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, said Monday that the Arizona law is broader.
“The law in Arizona, while it does include (preventing) pain as a compelling interest of the state, that is not a significant piece of the law, whereas that is the focus of the Arkansas legislation,” he said.
Mayberry said the Arkansas law was based on model legislation by the Washington-based organization National Right to Life. That organization said in a statement Monday that 10 states have passed laws based on its model and that those laws differ greatly from the Arizona law that was struck down.
“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to let that decision stand has no impact on these laws protecting from abortion unborn children who can feel pain,” the organization said.