Edwards v. Beck


Primary Content

(REVISED 6.2.2016) In 2013, Arkansas passed a blatantly unconstitutional ban on previability abortion. The law required that a doctor perform an ultrasound prior to terminating a pregnancy and attempt to detect a “heartbeat.” It then prohibited abortions beginning at twelve weeks of pregnancy if a “heartbeat” could be detected. In all normally progressing pregnancies, some cardiac activity can be detected by twelve weeks. Thus, the law banned all abortions beginning at twelve weeks, which make up 20% of the abortions performed in the state.

Despite the United States Supreme Court’s very clear rulings that states may not ban abortion before viability, politicians continue to pass laws like this one that prohibit abortion early in pregnancy.

Plaintiff(s):Louis Jerry Edwards, M.D., and Tom Tvedten, M.D.

Center Attorney(s): Stephanie Toti

Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Bettina Brownstein, ACLU of AR, Susan Talcott Camp, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project

Summary: The Center for Reproductive Rights, together with the ACLU and the ACLU of Arkansas, challenged the law in federal court in April 2013, on behalf of two Arkansas doctors and their patients. The plaintiffs argued that the ban violated patients’ constitutional rights to liberty and privacy under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court agreed and permanently enjoined the ban, ruling that it was unconstitutional because there is no evidence a fetus can be viable at twelve weeks. The court, however, upheld the law’s provisions mandating that doctors perform an ultrasound examination on every woman seeking an abortion and then inform the woman in writing whether the fetus possesses a “heartbeat,” as well as the statistical probability of carrying a fetus of that gestational age to term.

The State appealed in May 2014, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit heard oral argument in the case in January 2015. On May 27, 2015, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that the twelve week ban is unconstitutional. On October 6, 2015, the State petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The Court declined to review the case on January 19, 2016, allowing the district court and Eighth Circuit decisions to stand. The state of Arkansas was ordered to pay over $100,000 in attorney's fees and costs. The law is now permanently blocked as unconstitutional.