Federal appeals court turns down state ‘heartbeat bill’

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled May 27 that Arkansas’ 12-week abortion ban dubbed the “heartbeat bill” is unconstitutional.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Jason Rapert, passed the Arkansas legislature in 2013 saying that if a doctor could detect a fetal heartbeat after the 12th week of pregnancy, the woman would not be allowed to have an abortion. It became the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, but an Arkansas federal judge struck it down before it could be enacted.

Arkansas Right to Life was not involved with promoting this bill, said executive director Rose Mimms.

“That was something we expected. As long as Roe v. Wade is standing there’s little we can do in that first trimester,” Mimms said of the appeals court decision. “What Roe v. Wade says in that first trimester is a woman can have an abortion … and she really doesn’t have to give a reason within that first 12 weeks and the state can’t do a whole lot to restrict it.”

In 1973, U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion virtually on demand.  

“The opinion of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals is disappointing in that it continues the trend begun by Roe v. Wade in 1973 of denying the humanity of the unborn child,” said Becky Mullican, director of the diocesan Respect Life Office. “We don't know yet how this process will conclude, but we are committed to work toward a more just system of laws in our country.”

The Associated Press reported that Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office will review the decision “and will evaluate how to proceed.”

However, a portion of the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act was determined to be legal. It requires an abortion doctor to tell the woman if a heartbeat is detected and the likelihood that the child could be carried to term.

“That’s more than what we had before; they didn’t even have to detect the heartbeat. Every woman that comes in there the doctor has to tell her we detected the heartbeat of your child, she has to sign off on that; that’s great,” Mimms said. “We think that could make the difference between life and death for some of these children.”

For Arkansas Right to Life, it’s a matter of being able to “whittle away at Roe v. Wade where we can,” Mimms said, adding it’s next goal is to outlaw dismemberment abortions, known as Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) abortions.

“It’s cutting the baby into pieces and pulling it apart,” Mimms said, saying it happens typically in the later trimesters.

This type of abortion is currently legal in Arkansas.

“People don’t want to hear about it and if people don’t want to hear about it, we shouldn’t be doing it.”

In the same legislative session, the Arkansas legislators passed a 20-week ban, similar to bans in 11 other states, the AP cited. This law went into effect in 2013.

Mullican said continued education and prayers for pro-life issues are needed.

“As Catholics we hold the dignity and sanctity of every human life as sacred, from conception to natural death,” she said. “We testify to this dignity in the public square and will continue to work diligently toward the restoration of legal protection for all life. … We pray, individually and as a body, both in thanksgiving for the freedoms we enjoy in our country, and in earnest intercession for a renewed respect for life in all its stages.”


Aprille Hanson Spivey

Aprille Hanson Spivey has contributed to Arkansas Catholic as a freelancer and associate editor since 2010. She leads the Beacon of Hope grief ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway.

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