Planned Parenthood, ACLU sue to block Arkansas ban on most abortions

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) - Women's health provider Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday filed a lawsuit challenging Arkansas' ban on all abortions except in medical emergencies, one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the United States.

Arkansas' law, which Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson signed in March and which is due to go into effect in late summer, makes it a felony for doctors to provide abortions except in medical emergencies, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

Like many other abortion restrictions passed in Republican-led states in recent years, the law is part of a conservative effort to prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that guarantees a woman’s right to abortion before a fetus is viable, at around 24-28 weeks.

The Supreme Court signaled it was open to possibly overturning that precedent last week, when it agreed to review Mississippi's bid to ban abortions past 15 weeks of pregnancy.

"We are not going to stand by while Arkansas attempts to deny people their constitutional right to abortion care," Meagan Burrows, staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement.

The federal lawsuit names the Pulaski County prosecutor, members of Arkansas's state medical board and the department of health as defendants. An attorney for the state medical board and a representative for the health department did not immediately return requests for comment.

The chief deputy for the Pulaski County prosecutor's office declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents citing religious beliefs to declare it immoral, while abortion-rights activists say the procedure is basic healthcare and restrictions rob women of control over their bodies.

Alabama is the only state to have recently passed a similarly sweeping anti-abortion policy, when the state made it a felony for doctors to perform abortions except to save a mother's life in 2019. That law was struck down in federal court.

Arkansas has already passed several anti-abortion measures, including a trigger law that would make abortion illegal in the state in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Alistair Bell)