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Federal Appeals Court Blocks Arkansas Ban On Abortion After 12 Weeks

Updated at 11:45 a.m. ET

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has blocked an Arkansas law that bans abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The case was filed by two doctors on their own and their patients' behalf.

The court's ruling notes:

"By banning abortions after 12 weeks' gestation, the Act prohibits women from making the ultimate decision to terminate a pregnancy at a point before viability. Because the State made no attempt to refute the plaintiffs' assertions of fact, the district court's summary judgment order must be affirmed."

NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports that:

"Arkansas' law required doctors to test for a fetal heartbeat, then banned abortion after 12 weeks if a heartbeat was present. But the law's opponents noted that all fetuses at that stage have a heartbeat, yet none is considered viable outside the womb.

"The Eighth Circuit ruling notes that the Supreme Court gives women the right to an abortion up to the point of viability, generally considered to be around 24 weeks. The ruling goes on at length about how technology is pushing the point of viability earlier and earlier. But it says the state of Arkansas presented no evidence that a 12-week-old fetus is ever viable."

NPR's Nina Totenberg notes that "a three-judge panel of judges all appointed by President George W. Bush permanently barred the ban on abortions after 12 weeks from going into effect." she adds:

"Arkansas' law is the second-most restrictive in the country. North Dakota has the most restrictive law, banning abortions after six weeks gestation, but that law too has been blocked by the courts. And both states have backup laws banning abortions after 20 weeks and making them more difficult to obtain. In all, 10 states now have laws banning abortions after 20 weeks."

The Arkansas Legislature approved the strict law in 2013 — and then voted to override a veto by then-Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat. The state's governor is now Asa Hutchinson.

As we reported in 2013:

"The bill, whose main sponsor is Sen. Jason Rapert, would require anyone who provides abortions in Arkansas to "perform an abdominal ultrasound test necessary to detect a heartbeat of an unborn human individual according to standard medical practice."

"If a heartbeat is detected and the pregnancy is at 12 weeks or greater, an abortion would be forbidden. Exceptions are provided for cases of medical emergency, rape, and other situations."

In recent weeks, Arkansas lawmakers have approved a bill banning most abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy as well as a bill that doubles the period a woman must wait before undergoing an abortion, to two days.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.