LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Friday he’ll appeal a federal judge’s decision to strike down a state law that banned most abortions 12 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy, one of the strictest prohibitions on the procedure in the nation.
McDaniel filed a notice of appeal over U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright’s ruling last month that the abortion prohibition was unconstitutional and violated the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion until a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. A fetus is generally considered viable at 22 to 24 weeks.
McDaniel is appealing the decision to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. McDaniel said in a statement that his office "will diligently litigate this matter to its conclusion."
The lawmaker who sponsored the 12-week ban announced earlier Friday that McDaniel was planning to appeal the measure. State Sen. Jason Rapert cheered the move, saying he believed the ban would ultimately be upheld.
"I’m proud that our state is standing up for our right to limit abortion and save the lives of little babies," Rapert, R-Conway, said at a news conference with other Republicans and anti-abortion activists.
McDaniel said that Rapert had asked him to appeal the ruling. McDaniel said he had warned the Republican lawmaker about the "risks and costs associated with an appeal."
"I agreed to do so as long as there would be no impact on the budget of the Arkansas State Medical Board, the defendant in the matter, should the state be required to pay attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs," McDaniel said. McDaniel said the incoming leaders of the House and Senate assured him that the board’s budget would not be affected and that any costs from the litigation would be handled in a separate budget bill.
By adopting a ban based on a fetal heartbeat, and not the ability to survive, the Arkansas Legislature had adopted the nation’s toughest abortion law last March. Two weeks later, North Dakota lawmakers passed a bill restricting abortions at six weeks — or before some women would know they’re pregnant. That law is on hold.
Wright left in place a portion of the law that requires doctors to check for a fetal heartbeat and to notify the pregnant woman if one is present.
Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, had vetoed the bill, citing the viability standard. But Republicans, controlling the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, overrode him with a simple majority vote.
The 12-week ban had included exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders. Legislators last year also passed a separate ban at 20 weeks, based on the disputed claim that fetuses can feel pain at that point. That law has not been challenged in court.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas had sued the state on behalf of two doctors who perform abortions at a Little Rock clinic. ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar said she was confident the ruling would be upheld.
"I can’t imagine what he’s thinking," Sklar said. "It a colossal waste of time and taxpayer money. It’s going to mean a bigger fat check in the ACLU bank accounts, which will enable us to fight for more people’s rights."