“We are not going to stand by while Arkansas attempts to deny people their constitutional right to abortion care. Abortion remains legal in all 50 states, and we’ll see the state of Arkansas in court to make sure it stays that way.”
—Meagan Burrows, staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
The national ACLU, the ACLU of Arkansas, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a lawsuit last Tuesday challenging a near-total ban on abortion signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in March. Currently scheduled to take effect on July 28, the law makes performing an abortion a felony with harsh penalties, including a fine of up to $100,000, imprisonment up to 10 years, or both. The law has no exception for rape or incest.
“This law clearly violates the Constitution and nearly five decades of binding Supreme Court precedent that protects the right to access abortion,” said Meagan Burrows, staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Arkansas’s anti-abortion politicians know that Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land, but they passed this abortion ban anyway, which triggers a direct challenge to Roe. We are not going to stand by while Arkansas attempts to deny people their constitutional right to abortion care. Abortion remains legal in all 50 states, and we’ll see the state of Arkansas in court to make sure it stays that way.”
In the bill, Arkansas legislators explicitly urge the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Arkansas law goes way beyond the 15-week Mississippi ban that the Supreme Court agreed to consider on appeal in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In that case, the court has said it will decide the question of whether all pre-viability prohibitions on abortion are unconstitutional.
“This law is plainly unconstitutional, but that hasn’t stopped Arkansas politicians from continuing their relentless campaign against abortion access,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “By outlawing abortion and criminalizing doctors, this law would completely block Arkansans from care and put politicians in charge of our most deeply personal decisions. As long as Arkansas politicians keep trampling on people’s fundamental rights, we’ll continue to challenge these laws in court, in the Capitol, and in communities across the state.”
Arkansas Republicans have been trying to eliminate abortion care in the state for years. The current ban is one of 20 abortion restrictions passed in Arkansas just this year—the highest number of abortion restrictions passed by any state in a single year since Louisiana first set the record of 20 in 1978. Over the past decade, the state has passed an avalanche of anti-abortion laws, including bans on abortion at various points in pregnancy, a ban of the standard method of care after about 14 weeks of pregnancy, a ban on abortion based on a patient’s reasons, restrictions on qualified health providers from providing abortion care, and extremely burdensome and medically unnecessary requirements on abortion clinics in an effort to force them to close.
“Year after year, the Arkansas legislature has passed abortion restrictions and bans aimed at making it more difficult for us to provide, and for our patients to access, abortion. This ban is just the latest and clearest example of what the state has been trying to do for years: stop our patients from accessing vital reproductive health care,” said Lori Williams, clinical director at Little Rock Family Planning Services, a plaintiff in the case and one of only two abortion clinics providing care in the state. “Abortion is health care—we know, because we provide it every day. Little Rock Family Planning is proud to be part of this lawsuit to fight on behalf of our physicians, our patients and our community.”
Nationwide Efforts to Ban Abortion: “The Worst State Legislative Session for Proposed Abortion Restrictions Since Roe Was Decided”
The Arkansas ban is the second time that a state has tried to ban most abortions. Alabama banned abortion with narrow exceptions in 2019. The ACLU promptly won a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the Alabama abortion ban.
The Arkansas ban and the other restrictions passed this session in Arkansas and elsewhere are part of a longstanding, concerted nationwide effort to ban abortion entirely or push care out of reach. In the last two years, more than a dozen states have passed bills that ban abortion at various stages of pregnancy, though those laws were all blocked in court and none are in effect. So far in this year alone, anti-abortion politicians across the country have introduced over 530 restrictions on abortion.
“During what’s been the worst state legislative session for proposed abortion restrictions since Roe was decided, Planned Parenthood stands ready to fight back against unconstitutional laws that are designed to strip people’s access to essential health care,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
In a particularly ironic twist in the text of the bill, Arkansas lawmakers liken Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, describing all three cases as a “grave injustice” and “crime against humanity.” The bill then goes on to cite Brown v. Board of Education as an example of where the court “corrected its own grave injustice and crime against humanity.”
The irony of this juxtaposition is that anti-abortion legislators are the same people pushing voter suppression laws across the country and in Arkansas. Despite lawmakers’ professed concern for race discrimination in the abortion ban legislation, Arkansas just enacted two voter suppression bills—SB 643 shortening the absentee ballot return timeline and SB 557 requiring elections officials to “comply with directives” from partisan county boards of election. These laws have been challenged in court.
“The abortion ban is reflective of the fact that they do not care about Black Arkansans,” Burrows told Ms. “This law, were it to take effect, would have a dramatically disproportionate impact on Black Arkansans, rural Arkansans, low-income Arkansans seeking abortion. Arkansas is one of the states in the nation with the highest maternal mortality rates, and the rates for Black women are two to three times higher than their white counterparts. Rather than focusing on remedying that, on stopping those preventable deaths, it’s launched an attack that is going to put them at higher risk of death from forced pregnancy.”
The bill also claims that abortion causes “massive harm” to women. In fact, Arkansas’s efforts to restrict and ban abortion access have devastating effects on people of color, immigrants, people who live in rural areas, and people with low incomes. These laws hurt people and families who are already among the most vulnerable Arkansas communities.
“Health outcomes in Arkansas are among the worst in the nation. Yet under the ‘leadership’ of anti-abortion politicians, Arkansas continues to focus on banning abortion, rather than addressing the state’s high rates of teen pregnancies, infant and maternal mortality, and sexually transmitted infections and diseases,” said Brandon Hill, Ph.D., president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, a plaintiff in the case and one of only two abortion clinics providing care in the state. “While ignoring these public health crises, they’re creating more barriers to essential health care.”
“We will never stop working to protect our patients’ access to care—including abortion—in Arkansas and across the country,” said McGill Johnson. “Our patients deserve better from their lawmakers, who are wasting time passing harmful, cruel laws. Arkansas, we’ll see you in court.”