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Federal judge continues blocking 3 Arkansas abortion laws

August 7, 2019
FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2012, file photo, Kristine Baker smiles after being sworn in as a U.S. District judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock. Baker, a federal judge says three Arkansas abortion restrictions she temporarily blocked will remain on hold while she considers a lawsuit challenging them. U.S. District Judge Baker granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, preventing the state from enforcing the restrictions. (Rick McFarland/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2012, file photo, Kristine Baker smiles after being sworn in as a U.S. District judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock. Baker, a federal judge says three Arkansas abortion restrictions she temporarily blocked will remain on hold while she considers a lawsuit challenging them. U.S. District Judge Baker granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, preventing the state from enforcing the restrictions. (Rick McFarland/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP, File)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that three Arkansas abortion restrictions she temporarily blocked will remain on hold while she considers a lawsuit challenging them.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the restrictions, which include a measure prohibiting abortion 18 weeks into pregnancy. They also include a requirement that doctors performing abortions be board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology. An official with a Little Rock clinic that performs surgical abortions has said it has one physician who meets that requirement, and that he only works there infrequently.

Baker last month issued a ruling blocking the laws that was set to expire late Tuesday night. The third law prohibits doctors from performing an abortion if it’s being sought because the fetus was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

“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,” Baker wrote in her 186-page ruling.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office immediately filed a notice that it was appealing Baker’s decision.

“She continues to defend Arkansas law protecting women’s health,” Amanda Priest, a spokeswoman for Rutledge, said.

The laws are being challenged by Little Rock Family Planning Services, the state’s only surgical abortion clinic, and Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood only offers medication-induced abortions at its Arkansas facilities. Planned Parenthood last month closed its Fayetteville facility and is looking for a new location, but is still providing medication abortions at its Little Rock center.

“These extreme bans and restrictions would have decimated abortion access in Arkansas, so we’re relieved the court has again blocked them from taking effect,” said Holly Dickson, legal director and interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which represents Little Rock Family Planning. “This ruling ensures our clients can continue to provide quality, compassionate medical care to Arkansans while we work to strike down these laws for good.”

Little Rock Family Planning has said it would likely be forced to close if the new requirement for abortion doctors took effect.

Under current Arkansas law, a physician licensed to practice medicine in the state can perform abortions. The additional qualification for abortion doctors is similar to a Mississippi law a federal judge upheld last year. Opponents say the requirement eliminates a large number of physicians who have had training in the procedure. The state has argued that the additional qualification would protect patients.

Arkansas is one of two states with an 18-week ban. Utah enacted a similar restriction this year, but has agreed to not enforce the ban while it’s being challenged in federal court.

Several states have laws banning abortion for genetic anomalies including Down syndrome, but North Dakota’s is the only one in effect. The others are also tied up in legal challenges.

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