The US state of Arkansas has passed legislation that allows husband to block their wives from undertaking an abortion, even in the case of spousal rape.
The “Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act” effectively bans abortions after 14 weeks by criminalising the most common and (according to The World Health Organisation) safest method used to obtain them: dilation and evacuation.
This procedure, which is currently used in 95 per cent of second-trimester abortions in the state, involves the use of surgical instruments to remove tissue from the womb.
But arguably even more problematic is a clause in the law that makes it possible for the husband of a woman seeking an abortion to sue her doctor for civil damages (money) or for an injunction to stop the procedure from going ahead, as long as the foetus is his.
Parents are also permitted to do the same if the patient is a minor.
Pro-choice advocates and opponents to the legislation have voiced concern that it will prevent women seeking an abortion even in the case of spousal rape or incest.
“They created a whole new right ― the right of a husband or family member to sue a doctor on behalf of an adult patient,” said Holly Dickson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas told The Huffington Post.
“I cannot begin to tell you what the intent was, but we have raised concerns about that provision and the entire rest of the bill, which is unconstitutional.”
A 1973 US Supreme Court decision, known as Roe v. Wade, protects a woman’s right to have an abortion up until the foetus would be viable outside the womb – roughly 22 weeks of pregnancy.
Six other US states have passed laws similar to the one rushed through in Arkansas, and in the four where it was challenged (Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia) it was struck down by the courts, Dickson says.