A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Friday that a state law [Act 301, PDF] banning most abortions after 12 weeks into a woman's pregnancy is unconstitutional. Judge Susan Webber Wright temporarily blocked Act 301 last year, and allowed [JURIST reports] a challenge against the law to proceed. On Friday, Wright struck down the law, declaring [AP report] that abortions cannot be restricted until a fetus reaches viability, which is typically around 22-24 weeks. Wright also emphasized that doctors, rather than legislators, should determine when viability occurs. However, Wright left in place a part of the law that requires doctors to check for a fetal heartbeat.
Abortion continues to be a hot-button legal, political and moral issue within the ongoing debate over reproductive rights [JURIST backgrounder]. A number of states have proposed laws to make abortions illegal after 20 weeks. Last week the West Virginia legislature approved a bill [JURIST report] to prohibit abortions later than 20 weeks after conception. In February the Mississippi House approved [JURIST report] a 20-week abortion ban. In January the US Supreme Court declined to rule on Arizona's attempt to revive its 20-week ban on abortions after having it was stuck down [JURIST reports] on constitutional grounds by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last May. The US House of Representatives voted [JURIST report] in favor of a federal law banning 20-week abortions in June, but the bill failed [WP report] to gain widespread support in the Democratic-controlled US Senate.