published Friday, March 14th, 2014

U.S. judge strikes Arkansas' 12-week abortion ban

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal judge Friday struck down Arkansas' attempt to ban most abortions beginning 12 weeks into a woman's pregnancy, saying viability, not a heartbeat, remains the key factor in determining whether abortions should be allowed.

U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright last year had stopped enforcement of the law while she reviewed it, and on Friday she declared that it was unconstitutional. She cited previous court decisions that said abortions shouldn't be restricted until after a fetus can survive outside the womb.

Arkansas' Republican-dominated Legislature had wanted to shift the timeline forward -- to when a heartbeat is detected -- and overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe to do so.

"The Supreme Court has ... stressed that it is not the proper function of the legislature or the courts to place viability at a specific point in the gestation period," Wright wrote. That decision, she said, belongs to a doctor.

"The state presents no evidence that a fetus can live outside the mother's womb at twelve weeks," the judge wrote.

Wright left in place a portion of the law that requires doctors to check for a fetal heartbeat and to notify the pregnant woman if one is present.

The measure had included exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders.

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