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Rivals prepare to go head to head over abortion bans

Abortion-rights activists plan to challenge laws in Arkansas and North Dakota. The Arkansas law bans most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, while the North Dakota measure bans them after six weeks. 

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In Arkansas, where the 12-week ban would take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session, abortion-rights lawyers plan to file their challenge in federal court within the next few weeks.

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Bettina Brownstein, who will be representing the ACLU of Arkansas in the case, said the U.S. district court with jurisdiction over Little Rock had issued rulings in past abortion-related cases that gave her confidence of victory this time.

"Eventually it could go to U.S. Supreme Court on appeal, but that would take a while, and they may not want to hear it," she said. "It's a question of how much money the state wants to spend."

Northup chided officials in both Arkansas and North Dakota for their willingness to spend taxpayers' money on difficult and divisive legal cases.

"It's important that the citizens of those states realize that every dollar spent to defend blatantly unconstitutional laws is taxpayers' dollars wasted," she said.

Attorneys' fees for the upcoming cases are impossible to estimate at this stage, but Northup said her organization received $1.3 million in fees from Alaska after that state lost a recent case regarding an abortion-related law.

The last few years have been intensely busy for the Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU and other abortion-rights legal groups as Republican-controlled legislatures have enacted scores of laws seeking to restrict access to abortion. At least two dozen such measures are currently the target of lawsuits, said Northup, who vowed that her organization "will not let unconstitutional laws go unchallenged."

Some of the recent laws place new requirements on abortion clinics, others require abortion providers to perform certain procedures or offer state-mandated counseling before an abortion can take place.

At least 10 states have passed bills banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. One of those laws, in Idaho, was struck down by a U.S. district judge on March 6, while the laws in Georgia and Arizona have been temporarily blocked by judges pending further court proceedings.

Abortion-rights advocates, while eager to defeat the new bans in North Dakota and Arkansas, worry about the impact of the broader surge of restrictions.

"I don't believe these bans are going to take effect, but the danger is that they make the other laws look reasonable," said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. "The ultimate goal is to take this decision away from a woman and her doctor and give it to the politicians."

One of the most frequent targets of the anti-abortion laws is the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which — in addition to providing a range of other health services — is the nation's leading provider of abortions.

Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, said she found it frustrating that women "continue to be a political punching bag." But she saw an upside to the wave of anti-abortion legislation: more members and more donations for her organization.

"These attacks have served to energize our supporters," she said. "We've gained 2 million members in the past two years."

There's new energy on the other side as well.

The tough North Dakota laws have been welcomed by the protesters who gather weekly in Fargo outside the state's lone abortion clinic.

Among those on hand for the latest protest at the Red River Women's Clinic was Scott Carew, 50, who had brought two anti-abortion posters nailed to pieces of wood.

"Certainly, we're proud of the governor standing up for life," Carew said. "We're going to keep standing up for life until we can't stand up anymore."

Associated Press reporters James MacPherson in Bismarck, N.D., David Kolpack in Fargo, N.D., and Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

Follow David Crary on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CraryAP

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