Anti-abortion group seeks to intervene in fetal heartbeat lawsuit


LITTLE ROCK — A lawyer for a crisis pregnancy center and counseling service said Wednesday his client will be negatively affected if a new Arkansas law banning most abortions at 12 weeks is struck down.

Concepts of Truth Inc. of Wynne has asked a federal judge to let it intervene in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Little Rock in April by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights. The suit was filed on behalf of Drs. Louis Jerry Edwards and Tom Tvedten, who provide abortion services at a Little Rock clinic, and alleges that Act 301 of 2013 violates established case law on abortion rights.

At Concepts of Truth “they counsel women both before the decision to abort and afterward,” said Steve Crampton of Lynchburg, Va., general counsel for Liberty Counsel, which is representing the nonprofit organization.

“They have a distinct and more or less unique set of services they provide, and the clientele that they deal with are uniquely impacted by this law, so we think that gives them a right to come in and join in the defense of the law. If the plaintiffs were to prevail, the number of women that Concepts would see would decrease significantly,” he said.

Act 301 requires a woman seeking an abortion at 12 weeks or later into a pregnancy to receive an abdominal ultrasound to check for a fetal heartbeat. If a heartbeat is detected, the law prohibits an abortion from being performed except in cases of rape, incest, medical emergencies endangering the life of the mother or fetal anomalies that would not allow the child to live after birth.

The lawsuit alleges that the law violates established case law. The U.S. Supreme Court has said states cannot ban abortions before a fetus becomes viable, or able to survive outside the womb, which doctors generally consider to occur about 23 or 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

In a motion and brief filed Tuesday, Concepts of Truth noted that it “was instrumental in lobbying for and enlisting public support for Act 301.”

Crampton said his client is not questioning Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s ability or willingness to defend the law but believes it has an interest in defending the law that is not identical to McDaniel’s.

Also Tuesday, McDaniel’s office filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that it is constitutional and does not place an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion.

“The only abortions regulated by Act 301 are surgical abortions after at least 12 weeks’ gestation and the detection of a fetal heartbeat, and then only when the various exceptions do not apply,” the attorney general’s office said in a brief supporting its motion.

“By encouraging earlier abortions, and encouraging medical abortions (which are never regulated by Act 301) rather than surgical abortions (which are sometimes regulated by Act 301), Act 301 furthers the state’s legitimate interest in protecting the health and life of a pregnant woman.”

Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the legislation that became Act 301, as well as another bill banning most abortions at 20 weeks, saying he believed both were unconstitutional. The state Legislature overrode both vetoes.