Arkansas Attorney General requests abortion rehearing

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Attorney General’s Office requested a rehearing Wednesday before the U.S. Appeals Court that agreed last month with a lower court that a state law unconstitutionally burdens women by banning abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy if a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed a petition seeking the rehearing before the entire 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-judge panel of the court sided May 27 with doctors who challenged the law, ruling that abortion restrictions must be based on a fetus’ ability to live outside the womb, not the presence of a fetal heartbeat that can be detected weeks earlier.

The court said that standard was established by previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

“I have and will continue to be a strong advocate for the unborn,” Rutledge said in a statement Wednesday. “The Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act … was passed by lawmakers in 2013, and it is my duty to defend this law.”

The law was among several abortion restrictions Republicans pushed through the Legislature shortly after they took control of both the Senate and House for first time since Reconstruction.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which represented the two doctors challenging the law, said the petition for rehearing would be “more waste of Arkansas taxpayer money.”

“The three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which made it clear that abortions were constitutional up to the point of viability, and 12 weeks is not viability,” Sklar said.

In rejecting Arkansas’ fetal heartbeat law, the appeals court cautioned that the viability standard used to decide abortion-restriction cases is becoming increasingly difficult to apply because of advances in medicine.

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