WASHINGTON― A new law in Arkansas bans most second trimester abortions and allows a woman’s husband to sue the doctor for civil damages or “injunctive relief,” which would block the woman from having the procedure.
The “Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act,” signed into law last week by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), bans dilation and evacuation procedures, in which the physician removes the fetus from the womb with surgical tools. D&E procedures are the safest and most common way women can end their pregnancies after 14 weeks of gestation, according to the American Medical Association.
A clause buried in the legislation states that the husband of a woman seeking an abortion, if he is the baby’s father, can file a civil lawsuit against the physician for monetary damages or injunctive relief ― a court order that would prevent the doctor from going ahead with the procedure. The woman’s parents or legal guardians can also sue, if she is a minor. The law states that the husband cannot sue the doctor for money in cases of “criminal conduct” against his wife ― namely, spousal rape ― but he could still sue to block her from having the abortion.
State Rep. Andy Mayberry (R), who co-sponsored the bill, told The Daily Beast, “We’ve tried to account for all the worst case scenarios.”
“They created a whole new right ― the right of a husband or family member to sue a doctor on behalf of an adult patient,” said Holly Dickson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas. “I cannot begin to tell you what the intent was, but we have raised concerns about that provision and the entire rest of the bill, which is unconstitutional.”
The ACLU of Arkansas plans to challenge the abortion law in court before it goes into effect this summer. Six other states have passed nearly identical laws, and in all four states where the law was challenged ― Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia ― it was struck down by the courts. The Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade protects a woman’s right to have an abortion up until the fetus would be viable outside the womb, around 22 weeks of pregnancy.