2 Red States' Aggressive, Harmful Abortion Laws Struck Down

August 1st 2017

Recently, federal judges delivered unexpected victories for reproductive rights in two of the most conservative states in the country, Alabama and Arkansas.

In doing so, several extremely controversial laws were struck down right before they were due to go into effect. One of such laws would have possibly required women impregnated through rape to get the approval of their rapist to have an abortion, and another would've put pregnant teen girls on trial, with the fetus given a lawyer.

On Friday night, U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker issued an injunction blocking four Arkansas abortion laws, three of which were set to go into effect on Aug. 1. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Center for Reproductive Rights challenged all four laws, filing a lawsuit on behalf of the only doctor in the state to perform outpatient second-trimester abortions. With the injunction, the laws will remain frozen until a full trial can take place.

The four Arkansas laws would have made the state among the least-permissive for reproductive rights in the country, and consist of:

  • Banning the common second-trimester abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D&E).
  • Requiring that doctors report teens’ abortions to local police and keep fetal remains as evidence, even if there's no sign of a crime.
  • The addition of fetuses to an existing Arkansas statute that requires family members to agree on how remains are disposed of.
  • Requiring doctors to get a patient's complete medical history to prevent sex-selective abortion.

Calling the laws "insulting, harmful, and unconstitutional," Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement that "the judge has prevented some of the most egregious burdens Arkansas politicians have tried to impose on women seeking abortion in the state.”

All four laws were found to have little medical necessity, creating needless delays, undue hassles, and preventing vulnerable minors and rape survivors from obtaining abortions. The ban on dilation and evacuation abortions was seen as a de facto ban second-trimester abortion, since it's used in 95 percent of those procedures, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute. Similar laws have already been blocked in four states.

Likewise, the reporting requirement duplicated a law already on the books for girls younger than age 14, and the medical history requirement was a solution to a non-existent problem in sex-selective abortion. Both were seen as needlessly violating women's privacy and causing delays that could take away the option of abortion, altogether.

But the law provoking the most outrage was the one that "could have forced abortion-seeking Arkansans to notify their sexual partners or parents of their impending abortions to get their input on fetal-tissue disposal," Slate reported. The law could have put women at risk of physical and financial abuse once family members knew about the plans for an abortion, and might have even required them to get permission of the father to move forward.

A few days after the legal wins in Arkansas, a judge in Alabama blocked a law unique to that state, one that would have essentially put minors seeking abortions on trial, with the fetus itself being given a lawyer, and parents and teachers allowed to be called as witnesses against her.

According to the Associated Press, "the new law empowered the judge to appoint a guardian ad litem "for the interests of the unborn child" and invited the local district attorney to call witnesses and question the girl to determine whether she's mature enough to decide [whether to get an abortion.]"

Most states have laws that require minors to either inform or get permission from parents to get an abortion, but judicial bypass laws let minors go to court to get consent if they can't or won't go to their parents. Arkansas' law would have turned that process into a trial, codifying the anti-abortion theory that judicial bypass is simply a loophole that allows minors to get abortions without consent.

In challenging the law, the ACLU said it put minors in undue danger.