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Media Alerts - Edwards v. Beck - Eighth Circuit
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June 18, 2015
  Edwards v. Beck - Eighth Circuit
Headline Eighth Circuit panel affirms permanent injunction of certain provisions of the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act

Area of Law Abortion rights

Issue(s) Presented Whether the district court properly determined that certain sections of the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act must be enjoined as unconstitutional prohibitions on a woman's right to choose an abortion.

Brief Summary Two Arkansas physicians challenged the constitutionality of the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act (the "Act"), seeking a permanent injunction. The Act provides that a physician cannot perform an abortion on a pregnant woman until after it has been determined whether the fetus has a detectible heartbeat. Ark. Code Ann. § 20-16-1303(a). Moreover, a physician "shall not perform an abortion on a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn human individual whose heartbeat has been detected . . . and is twelve (12) weeks or greater gestation." Id. at § 20-16-1304(a). If a physician violates § 1304, his or her medical license shall be revoked. Id. at § 20-16-1304(b).

On summary judgment, the plaintiffs submitted affidavits stating that a fetus is generally not viable until 24 weeks' gestation, is never viable at 12 weeks, but will normally have a detectable heartbeat at 12 weeks. The defendant, the Arkansas State Medical Board, left the plaintiffs' factual allegations uncontroverted, and presented no factual record of its own. Based on this factual record, and in keeping with prior rulings of the United States Supreme Court, the District Court permanently enjoined sections 20-16-1303(d)(3) and 20-16-1304.

On appeal, a panel of the Eighth Circuit affirmed the District Court's ruling. United States Supreme Court precedent establishes the "right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability. . . without undue interference from the State." Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 846 (1992). In this case, the uncontroverted factual record established that a fetus is not viable until 24 weeks' gestation. Because the Act prohibited abortions after only 12 weeks' gestation, well before viability, those provisions prohibiting abortions were unconstitutional and were properly enjoined by the District Court.

In dicta, the Eighth Circuit panel questioned the continuing usefulness of the viability standard established by Casey. Medical and technological advances continue to move the point of viability earlier in a pregnancy. Moreover, the viability determination must be made on a case-by-case basis, making it essential that the courts be presented with an adequate scientific record.

The full text of the opinion may be found at

Panel Circuit Judges Benton, Shepherd, and Smith

Date of Issued Opinion May 27, 2015

Decided Affirmed

Docket Number 14-1891

Counsel Colin Jorgensen for Appellants and Susan Talcott Camp for Appellees

Author Per Curiam

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor Joelle Larson, University of Minnesota Law School

    Posted By: Joelle Larson @ 06/18/2015 11:25 AM     8th Circuit  

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