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Lawsuit filed to block new Ark. abortion law

Jeannie Nuss, Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Abortion rights proponents filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to block Arkansas' new abortion law, which is among the most restrictive in the nation.

The legal challenge, filed on behalf of two doctors who provide abortions at a Little Rock clinic, argues that Arkansas' ban on most abortions from the 12th week of pregnancy onward is unconstitutional. It seeks to block the law from taking effect this summer and also asks the court to strike down the law completely.

The lawsuit comes after state legislators last month overrode Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's veto to give Arkansas what was then the country's most restrictive abortion law. North Dakota has since gone further, with Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signing a measure that would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

The lawsuit in Arkansas was filed on behalf of Dr. Louis Jerry Edwards and Dr. Tom Tvedten, and it targets members of the State Medical Board, which is responsible for licensing medical professionals under Arkansas law. The lawsuit claims Edwards and Tvedten could lose their licenses for providing abortions starting at the 12th week of pregnancy, meaning the law denies "patients their constitutionally-guaranteed right to decide to end a previability pregnancy."

Arkansas' 12-week ban is tied to the date at which a fetal heartbeat is typically detected by an abdominal ultrasound. The ban, set to take effect July 18, includes exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders.

"We are asking the court to block an attempt to essentially outlaw all abortions past 12 weeks, so early that a woman might not know the complete health and status of her pregnancy," Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

The lawsuit is far from unexpected. Abortion rights proponents have said all along that they would sue to block the 12-week ban from taking effect, and Arkansas Right to Life's director said she had expected a legal challenge.

Even Beebe warned lawmakers that the 12-week measure and another abortion restriction would likely fail in court.

Rose Mimms, the executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, said groups like hers are hopeful that laws restricting abortions will land again before the U.S. Supreme Court and be considered against new discoveries regarding fetal development.

"They didn't have that kind of information when they decided Roe v. Wade," Mimms said.

Sklar called the bill "one of the most dangerous assaults on women's health that we've seen in decades." She said all sides of the debate may not be able to agree on the issue, " but we can all agree that this complex and personal decision should be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor, not politicians," she said in a statement.


Follow Jeannie Nuss at https://twitter.com/jeannienuss