As numerous state legislatures are looking to limit women’s reproductive rights, Arkansas just passed one of the most restrictive abortion measures in the country. A law signed last week by Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson not only outlaws dilation and evacuation abortions, but it allows a woman’s spouse or family members to sue the physician who performs such procedures for civil damages or “injunctive relief,” essentially blocking the woman from having an abortion.
In a dilation and evacuation abortion, a physician will use surgical tools to remove fetal tissue from the womb. For women who are in their second trimester, it is the most common and safe method to terminate a pregnancy. But in passing the Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act, the Arkansas state legislature has effectively outlawed abortions after 14 weeks and made dilation and evacuation procedures a Class D felony—one that is punishable by up to six years in prison or a $10,000 fine.
Even more alarming, within this same legislation, a clause exists that would allow the husband of a woman seeking an abortion to block the procedure from happening. If the man is the father of the fetus, he now has the power to file a civil lawsuit for monetary damage against the physician who performed the abortion or file an injunctive relief to block the procedure from happening (a woman’s health care provider is also allowed to take similar legal action, and in the case of a minor, a young woman’s parents or legal guardians can sue). According to Representative Andy Mayberry, one of the men who introduced this latest bill governing a woman’s body, a man cannot sue a doctor for financial compensation in the case of “criminal conduct”—meaning instances of spousal rape or incest—but he is still protected under the injunctive relief clause to try to stop an abortion from happening.
“We’ve tried to account for all the worst-case scenarios,” Mayberry told The Daily Beast. But as women’s reproductive rights activists note, in planning for these “worst case scenarios,” legislators have given an alarming amount of control to a woman’s family over her care health decisions.
According to Reuters, laws banning dilation and evacuation abortions exist in Mississippi and Louisiana (similar measures in Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma have encountered legal challenges and have yet been carried out in full). The new Arkansas law is scheduled to go into effect as early as this spring, but already the ACLU’s Arkansas branch is planning to take the law to court—and it’s doubtful that the fight against the law will end there.
“The law puts an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to obtain a second-trimester abortion,” Rita Sklar, an attorney for ACLU Arkansas, told Reuters. “I think the legislature knows it and doesn’t care.”