(Reuters) - A federal judge late on Tuesday again blocked Arkansas from enforcing a new ban on abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy, a law that had been expected to go into effect on Wednesday after a previous judicial block expired, CNN and other media reported.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker of the Eastern District of Arkansas granted a temporary reprieve for two weeks until Aug. 20, blocking the state from enforcing that ban and other restrictions.
The restrictions would also require that only Arkansas-licensed physicians who are board-certified or board eligible in obstetrics and gynecology may perform abortions.
Abortion rights advocates said the ban would sharply reduce the number of medical doctors allowed to perform the abortions in the state.
Abortion is one of the most divisive social issues in the United States, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral while advocates say limiting access to it infringes on women’s rights to control their bodies.
“The record at this stage of the proceedings indicates that Arkansas women seeking abortions face an imminent threat to their constitutional rights,” Baker wrote in her original 159-page blocking order issued on July 24.
Tuesday’s injunction gives the judge more time to consider a final disposition. Neither court nor state officials could immediately be reached outside of regular business hours.
If the law goes into effect, it would likely close Arkansas’s only remaining abortion clinic, Fox News and other news media reported.
Arkansas is among a wave of Republican-controlled U.S. states that have passed new restrictions on abortion.
Some of these measures — including Alabama’s outright ban making no exceptions for rape or incest — are aimed at prompting the newly enshrined 5-4 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that upheld a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.
The Roe v. Wade decision allows for states to place restrictions on abortion from the time a fetus could viably survive outside the womb, except in cases where the woman’s health is at risk.
State vary on the number of weeks allowed. In Arkansas, it had been 20 weeks, in most cases.
Abortion rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, who filed the suit in June, have said they want seek to make the injunction permanent.
Arkansas officials say the law was created to better protect patients.
Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Alison Williams