A federal judge in Arkansas ruled Tuesday that three Arkansas laws that would likely force the state's only surgical abortion clinic to close cannot be enforced while she considers a lawsuit challenging them.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker said the 14-day temporary restraining order would give her more time to consider a lawsuit filed by Little Rock Family Planning Services and Planned Parenthood, which only performs medication-induced abortions in the state.
"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.
The laws at issue include a prohibition on abortions for women who are 18 weeks pregnant or seek abortion because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Another law would require doctors performing abortions to be board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology.
Little Rock Family Planning told the Associated Press that only one of their physicians meets the new surgical requirements set forth by the law, which was signed into effect by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson in March. Under current law, a state-licensed physician can legally perform abortions, but proponents of tighter restrictions say the new laws are designed to protect patients.
The additional qualification for abortion doctors is similar to a Mississippi law a federal judge upheld last year.
"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," Holly Dickson, the legal director and interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which represents the abortion clinic in Arkansas told the Associated Press. "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."
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.
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 Associated Press contributed to this report.