LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Abortion-rights groups asked a federal court Tuesday to block Arkansas from enforcing new restrictions lawmakers approved this year, including a ban on a commonly used second-trimester procedure that the groups say would make it nearly impossible for many women in the state to have an abortion.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the measure banning the procedure known as dilation and evacuation. Abortion-rights supporters contend it's the safest and most common procedure used in second-trimester abortions.
"Instead of protecting women's health, Arkansas politicians have passed laws that defy decency and reason just to make it difficult or impossible for a woman to get an abortion," Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement. "They've created burdensome bureaucratic hurdles that invade patient privacy."
The new law is set to take effect in August. Similar bans are in effect in Mississippi and West Virginia, while other bans in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma have been blocked by court rulings. A ban approved in Texas will take effect in September.
Other restrictions being challenged by the groups include a measure imposing fines and prison time on doctors who perform abortions that are based solely on whether the mother wants to have a boy or girl. The groups are challenging the law's requirement that a doctor performing the abortion first request records related to the entire pregnancy history of the woman. The groups argue the requirement would violate a patient's privacy and indefinitely delay a woman's access to abortion.
Another law being challenged expands the requirement that physicians performing abortions for patients under 14 take certain steps to preserve embryonic or fetal tissue and to notify local police where the minor resides. The new measure raises the age requirement to less than 17 years of age. The groups are also seeking new block new restrictions approved on how tissue from abortions and miscarriages are disposed of.
The groups said the tissue disposal law would require notification of a third party, such as the woman's sexual partner or her parents, before the abortion to determine how the fetus would be disposed of.
A separate lawsuit challenges another law requiring the state to suspend or revoke the license of abortion providers for any rule or law violation. The lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Little Rock Family Planning Services.
"This law singles out abortion facilities for differential treatment for no legitimate health or safety reason," Lori Williams, Little Rock Family Planning's clinical director, told reporters in a conference call.
The laws advanced in the majority-Republican Legislature after expanding their majorities in the Arkansas House and Senate. Other abortion restrictions have either been blocked or overturned by federal courts in recent years, including a law banning the procedure 12 weeks into a woman's pregnancy. The state has also appealed a federal judge's ruling against Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson's decision to block Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood. Anti-abortion groups said they were confident the laws would withstand legal challenges, or open the door for other measures restricting the procedure.
"I believe these lawsuits will simply pave the way for even better pro-life laws in the future - no matter how the courts rule," Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council, said in a statement.
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