A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the state of Arkansas from enforcing one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, a law the Republican governor previously said was intended as a direct challenge to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker, an Obama appointee, said the law was "categorically unconstitutional" in her court order issuing a preliminary injunction to prevent it from taking effect on July 28. The law would have banned all abortions in the state of Arkansas, including in cases of rape or incest, with the only exception being the rare instance when the life of the mother is in danger.
She said the plaintiffs, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, were "likely to succeed on the merits" of their argument that the Arkansas law bans abortions before the unborn child could survive outside the womb and is therefore unconstitutional given Supreme Court precedent.
"Defendants do not make any argument to the contrary and concede that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits," Baker wrote. "Instead, defendants argue that Roe and Casey were wrongly decided and that there is no constitutional right to abortion. As a federal district court, this Court 'is bound by the Supreme Court's decisions in Casey.' Accordingly, the Act is categorically unconstitutional, and plaintiffs have demonstrated they are likely to succeed on the merits.
"Defendants make no argument as to whether or not plaintiffs or plaintiffs' patients will experience irreparable harm. Since the record at this stage of the proceedings indicates that women seeking abortions in Arkansas face an imminent threat to their constitutional rights, the court concludes that they will suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief," she added.
The plaintiffs in the case applauded the decision.
"We're relieved that the court has blocked another cruel and harmful attempt to criminalize abortion care and intrude on Arkansans' deeply personal medical decisions," ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said, according to the Associated Press.
Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, added the decision "demonstrates that the court fully understands the harmful and immediate effects this law would have on Arkansans."
Arkansas Republicans were clear that the intention of the near-total ban on abortions was to advance to the Supreme Court and directly challenge precedents establishing a constitutional right to abortion.
Speaking in March, Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) said the "whole design" of the law was to go before the Supreme Court after President Donald Trump appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which purportedly created a 6-3 conservative majority on the court.
"It is not constitutional under Supreme Court cases right now," Hutchinson said at the time. "I signed it because it is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. That was the intent of it."
Arkansas has enacted 20 pro-life laws this year, the most of any state since 1978.
In 2019, Hutchinson signed a law that would ban abortions in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned. Another 2019 Arkansas law that would ban abortions after 18 weeks into a woman's pregnancy and ban selective abortions of unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome was temporarily blocked in January amid an ongoing legal challenge.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions. The expected landmark decision could determine whether it is legal to outlaw abortions before an unborn baby could survive outside the womb, which is generally considered to occur at 22 weeks or later.