Planned Parenthood asks judge to block Arkansas medication abortion law

Planned Parenthood asks judge to block Arkansas medication abortion law

By Gary Gately   
Abortion rights activists rally outside the Supreme Court in March 2016 before justices heard arguments on a Texas law that would have severely restricted abortions in the state. The court struck down the law in June 2016. (Doug Christian)

WASHINGTON  Planned Parenthood has filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge to block an Arkansas law sharply restricting abortions induced by medications.

Planned Parenthood’s decision comes after the U.S. Supreme Court refused Tuesday to take up its challenge to the Arkansas law. The law requires that physicians who provide medications that induce abortions in the first nine weeks of pregnancy have a contract with another doctor who would agree to treat emergency complications and has privileges to admit patients to a nearby hospital.

The high court provided no comment on its decision, but none of the justices dissented, leaving intact a decision by the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacating the lower court ruling. But the appeals court remanded the case to U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker in Little Rock, who had blocked the law, telling the judge that she had to determine how many women it would affect. The appeals court had put the law on hold while Planned Parenthood sought Supreme Court review.

“We continue to believe that the 8th Circuit got it wrong, and it’s deeply concerning what this will mean for women’s access to safe and legal abortions, and that’s why we are swiftly seeking emergency relief from the district court,” Danielle Wells, assistant director of state policy media at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told TMN.  “It’s important to know that this fight absolutely goes on, that it’s not over, and we’re going to continue to fight for our patients.”

With the Supreme Court’s refusal to review the case, Wells said, Arkansas “shamefully” became the first state in the nation to ban access to medication-induced abortions.

Wells noted that two of the state’s three abortion clinics had offered only medication abortions, meaning some women will now have to travel as far as nearly 400 miles round-trip to a clinic in Little Rock, or go out of state, to have an abortion.

Planned Parenthood said in its petition to the Supreme Court that no ob-gyn doctors surveyed would be willing to contract with hospitals under the law’s requirement because of fear of harassment and threats.

Baker, in her 2016 preliminary injunction, wrote that she was “skeptical” of medical benefits in the law’s provision requiring doctors who provide medication-induced abortions to contract with a doctor with hospital admitting privileges. Quoting an earlier decision by another federal judge, Baker called the requirement in the Arkansas law “a solution in search of a problem” and said emergency room physicians could easily treat any complications from medication-induced abortions without women’s doctors having contracts with doctors who have hospital admitting privileges.

But while abortion-rights advocates condemned the law, abortion foes welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision letting the law stand — for now.

Jerry Cox, president and founder of Family Council, an anti-abortion group based in Little Rock, told TMN the law protects the health of women.

Speaking of the Supreme Court’s decision, Cox said: “It is a victory because this law really is about ensuring that women have the health care that they deserve. What this does is require doctors who perform abortions to live by the same standards that almost all other doctors here in the state of Arkansas live by. So it’s really asking the abortion industry to operate by the same standards that most other outpatient clinics operate by.”

Without the law, Cox said, a woman who has a medical emergency after taking the abortion-inducing medications would go to the emergency room “and the doctor in the ER has no idea about this woman’s medical condition or what allergies she may have or whether she’s pregnant. He has to find all this out, whereas the way most medical procedures are handled, her records would follow her to the hospital, and the hospital would be able to provide her much better care.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, also praised the Supreme Court’s decision not to review the case.

“As attorney general, I have fully defended this law at every turn and applaud the Supreme Court’s decision against Planned Parenthood today,” Rutledge said. “Protecting the health and well-being of women and the unborn will always be a priority. We are a pro-life state and always will be as long as I am attorney general.”

Planned Parenthood pointed to the Supreme Court’s decision two years ago striking down a Texas law that, among other things, required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

In its petition to the Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood argued the Arkansas law is “strikingly similar” to the Texas law the high court struck down.

In the Texas case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the most important abortion decision in nearly a quarter-century, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the law.

Planned Parenthood’s Wells said the Arkansas law is the latest in a series of attempts nationwide to restrict women’s access to abortions. They include Iowa’s “beating heart” law, which bans almost all abortions once a fetal heartbeat has been detected, typically at six weeks into pregnancy. Other restrictive abortion laws, including ones in Missouri and Louisiana with provisions similar to the Texas law the high court struck down, are being heard in lower courts, and abortion disputes will almost certainly return to the Supreme Court.

“We’re seeing different types of laws, but the motive behind them is one and the same – to control women’s bodies and take away their rights and ban access to safe, legal abortions, and we’ve certainly seen that state politicians have been emboldened by the Trump and Pence administration to put even more extreme bans on abortion,”  Wells said. “We’re seeing politicians in states across the country who are trying to flout supreme court precedent and take away women’s rights to access abortions.”

Indeed, many conservative Republicans have made plain that they hope the Supreme Court ultimately overturns Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision granting women the constitutional right to have an abortion.

But Wells noted a January 2017 poll by the Pew Research Center found 69 percent of American adults said Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, while 28 percent said it should.


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