On Friday the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a lower court ruling against four pro-life laws the Arkansas Legislature passed in 2017.
This lawsuit has been in motion for more than three years now — and it isn’t finished yet.
Here’s a quick overview of these four pro-life laws and where they stand.
What the Laws Do
The pro-life laws in question are:
- Act 45 of 2017 (Dismemberment Abortion): Act 45 prohibits certain dismemberment abortions—such as D&E abortion procedures—in which an unborn baby is dismembered. It does not affect other common abortion procedures—such as chemical abortion or suction abortion procedures. In its lawsuit, the ACLU claimed Act 45 “imposes a criminal ban, and significant penalties, on second-trimester abortion practice.”
- Act 733 of 2017 (Sex-Selection Abortion): Act 733 prohibits abortions performed due to the baby’s sex. It contains a provision requiring the doctor to request the pregnant woman’s medical records pertaining to her pregnancy history before performing the abortion. The ACLU specifically challenged the portion of the law requiring the abortionist to request a woman’s medical records.
- Act 1018 of 2017 (Reporting Requirements): Act 1018 requires abortions performed on any girl under the age of 17 to be reported to the State Crime Lab in case the girl turns out to be the victim of sexual assault. The ACLU challenged these reporting requirements.
- Act 603 of 2017 (Prohibiting Buying and Selling of Aborted Babies): Act 603 prohibits biomedical and behavioral research on aborted fetal remains, and it requires aborted fetal remains to be disposed of according to the Arkansas Final Disposition Rights Act of 2009. This bill helps prevent abortionists from selling organs and tissue harvested from the bodies of aborted babies. The ACLU argued that the law is too burdensome and violates a woman’s right to privacy.
Here’s a Timeline of the Laws and Lawsuits Since 2017
- January 26, 2017: The Arkansas Legislature passed Act 45 prohibiting some dismemberment abortion procedures, and sent the bill to Governor Hutchinson to be signed into law. Arkansas’ laws prohibiting sex-selection abortion, expanding the reporting requirements for abortions performed on underage girls, and prohibiting the buying and selling of aborted babies passed in the following weeks.
- June 20, 2017: The ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging these four pro-life laws in court.
- July 28, 2017: U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a preliminary injunction blocking the State of Arkansas from enforcing these four laws. Judge Baker issued the injunction before the laws could go into effect. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge subsequently appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
- March 19, 2020: The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals indicated it would not make a decision on Judge Baker’s injunction until after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in the June Medical Services v. Russo case. The Supreme Court’s decision in that case was expected to have implications for other pro-life laws.
- June 29, 2020: The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana pro-life law in its June Medical Services v. Russo ruling.
- August 7, 2020: The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker’s preliminary injunction against the laws. The Eighth Circuit sent Arkansas’ pro-life laws back down to Judge Baker’s court for reconsideration in light of nuances in the June Medical Services decision.
Where Do Things Go From Here?
The four laws now go back to federal court in Arkansas.
The Eighth Circuit’s decision takes full effect on August 28 — meaning the State of Arkansas could begin enforcing these four pro-life laws in just a few weeks. However, the ACLU has indicated it plans to work to have the laws blocked again before then.
This lawsuit has been in play for more than three years, and it likely will go back to the Eighth Circuit before everything is said and done.
However, if last week’s ruling is any indication, there’s a good possibility the Eighth Circuit will uphold these pro-life laws in Arkansas.