Arguments Heard In Federal Lawsuit On Arkansas Abortion Laws

Jul 13, 2017

The federal court building in Little Rock.
Credit www.are.uscourts.gov

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker heard oral arguments Thursday in a lawsuit challenging four Arkansas laws that regulate abortion procedures. The laws were passed by the state legislature earlier this year with three set to go into effect at the end of July. Lawyers representing the plaintiff in Hopkins v. Jegley are seeking a preliminary injunction to halt the laws’ implementation.

One law, Act 45, prohibits so-called “dismemberment” abortions, barring a procedure known in the medical community as dilation and evacuation. The procedure commonly takes place in the second trimester— particularly after about 14 weeks into a pregnancy.

Another law, Act 733, bans abortion based on sex selection of a fetus.

Act 1018 requires providers of abortions to girls under the age of 18 to submit tissue samples to local law enforcement. Proponents of the laws have said it is needed insure that the abortion did not come about because of any coercive circumstances, like sexual abuse by an adult

The fourth law, Act 603, would require abortion providers to notify a woman’s family about their right to participate in the disposal of the remains of an aborted fetus.

The plaintiff in the case is Dr. Frederick Hopkins, obstetrician-gynecologist at Little Rock Family Planning Services, an abortion provider. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and The Center for Reproductive Rights are representing Hopkins.

During Thursday's hearing, the plaintiff’s counsel Susan Talcott Camp argued that the ban on dilation and evacuation is the only second trimester abortion procedure available to women in Arkansas. Other procedures that can be performed in the second trimester are either riskier or require special training from the physician or in-patient facilities. Camp said the ban does not pass the undue burden test, meaning that the law would make it exceptionally difficult for a woman in the second trimester to attain an abortion—which U.S. Supreme Court precedent has upheld as a constitutional right.  

On the other laws, Camp argued that they represented a regulatory overreach that essentially stigmatized women for having an abortion. The plaintiff’s counsel also argued that these laws in some cases allowed for the violation of privacy—particularly regarding medical records, which could be revealed to outside entities like law enforcement officials, family members and state health officials.

A lawyer for the state, Deputy Solicitor General Nicholas Bronni,  argued that the the dilation and evacuation procedure has not been upheld by the Supreme Court as a constitutionally protected right and that it was indeed feasible for abortion providers to attain the training, expertise and facilities to perform other procedures that can be done in the second trimester.

Bronni also said the plaintiff’s counsel was, in reference to the challenge to the four laws, bringing up problems that don’t exist and “conjuring up obstacles that hide in the shadows.”

He also offered a graphic description of the dilation and evacuation procedure, saying it involved tearing a fetus apart “limb from limb,” calling it a “brutal” and “barbaric” method. The plaintiff’s  lawyer on the other hand described the procedure in more medical or technical terms.

Baker is expected to eventually issue a written order on this request for a preliminary injunction.