A federal judge on Tuesday blocked a law passed in Arkansas that would ban nearly all abortions.
The law, which was set to take effect on Friday, had been approved by Arkansas’s Republican-led legislature and signed by the state’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson.
However, US district judge Kristine Baker issued a preliminary injunction, temporarily halting the law in its tracks, in a win for pro-choice supporters, while a lawsuit against its constitutionality proceeds.
The law would ban clinical providers from carrying out abortions “except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency”. It also does not provide exceptions for pregnancies occurring through incest or rape or involving fetal anomalies.
Violators were set to face fines up to $100,000 and as much as 10 years in prison.
Baker criticized the law as “categorically unconstitutional” since it would ban abortions before the fetus is considered viable.
Hutchinson, who signed the bill into law in March, said: “I signed it because it is a direct challenge to Roe v Wade,” referring to the US supreme court’s landmark precedent that established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, in 1973.
Arkansas already has some of the nation’s strictest abortion measures. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports reproductive rights, Arkansas has already enacted 20 abortion restrictions this year, the most in a single state since a record set by Louisiana in 1978.
Baker ruled that the law meant that women in Arkansas “face an imminent threat to their constitutional rights” and would “suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief”.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood, which both sued to stop the law, praised Baker’s decision.
“We’re relieved that the court has blocked another cruel and harmful attempt to criminalize abortion care and intrude on Arkansans’ deeply personal medical decisions,” ACLU of Arkansas’s executive director, Holly Dickson, said.
Hutchinson said he hoped the US supreme court would ultimately take the case.
In May, the supreme court agreed to take up a case from Mississippi involving the question of whether states can ban abortions before a fetus can survive outside the womb. The move could significantly alter nearly five decades of rulings on the procedure and is being called one of the most consequential abortion cases since Roe because it flies in the face of precedent.