A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on Friday vacated a Little Rock district judge’s July 28, 2017, injunction blocking the enforcement of four Arkansas laws that restrict access to abortion.
The appellate judges cited a recent opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts that they said changed the way in which the laws must be evaluated. In a June 29 ruling in a Louisiana case, Roberts issued a separate opinion that sided with the majority in striking down an admitting-privileges law that applied to abortion providers as unconstitutional, but applied different reasoning than the other justices.
Roberts’ opinion rejected the majority’s determination that under a previous precedent, courts are required to weigh the challenged law’s asserted benefits against the burdens it imposes on abortion access.
In 2017, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker weighed the benefits and burdens of the four 2017 laws to block their enforcement. They are Act 45, which bans a common second-trimester abortion procedure, dilation and evacuation; Act 1018, which requires doctors to notify law enforcement about abortions obtained by girls 16 or younger; Act 733, which requires doctors to review a woman’s medical records if she knows the sex of her fetus, to ensure she isn’t using abortion as a means of sex selection; and Act 603, which regulates the disposal of abortion remains, requiring the patient to notify her partner or family members, which opponents say allows them to effectively block the abortion.
The 8th Circuit said that according to Roberts, the appropriate method of analyzing a challenged law is whether the law poses a “substantial obstacle” or a substantial burden, not whether benefits outweighed burdens.
In light of that, the 8th Circuit panel dissolved the injunction Baker issued and returned the case to her court to reconsider her ruling using the “substantial obstacle” inquiry advocated by Roberts.
The ruling will not take effect for 21 days, meaning the laws will remain blocked until Aug. 28, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit in 2017.
Read Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.