Federal judge blocks Arkansas abortion law for 2 weeks

AP News
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Posted: Dec 31, 2015 8:45 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order late Thursday preventing Arkansas from enforcing new limits on how the abortion pill is administered.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a 14-day delay in enforcing two sections of the law, which was scheduled to go into effect Friday. Baker wrote in her ruling that "for now" she found enforcing those sections would cause a greater threat of irreparable harm to Planned Parenthood's two Arkansas clinics and the patients than the potential injuries to the state by maintaining the status quo.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit Monday challenging one portion of the law requiring doctors administering abortion pills to contract with a physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital and agrees to handle any complications. It also challenged another portion requiring providers to follow guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when administering the pills.

Baker wrote that for now, she believed Planned Parenthood had a substantial chance of succeeding in its argument that the requirement to contract with a physician "would result in an undue burden and have the effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman's right to choose to have an abortion of a nonviable fetus."

The judge also wrote that the FDA-approved regimen for administering the pill "does not appear to be the current standard of care."

Susan Allen, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said she had confidence in the merits of the case against the law passed in March by the majority-Republican Legislature.

"It is inexcusable (lawmakers) so willingly ignore the best medical evidence and practice, solely to achieve their own goals," she wrote in an emailed statement. "For women, this isn't about politics - it's about having the ability to make their own medical decisions, and for their doctors to be able to provide the care that is best for them."

Judd Deere, a spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said the short stay was granted to allow the parties time to fully present arguments.

"Act 577 of 2015 was passed by the General Assembly and seeks to ensure medication abortions are conducted in a safe, responsible manner and with appropriate protections in the case of adverse effects. Attorney General Rutledge will fully defend this statute and believes it will ultimately be upheld," he said.

Deere said the attorney general's office interprets the ruling to mean that the two portions cannot be enforced for the next two weeks at the Planned Parenthood clinics. He said a third clinic in Little Rock is not part of the case and will have to immediately abide by the law.

The other clinic in Little Rock administers the abortion pill but also performs surgical abortions. A message left with the clinic's answering service was not immediately returned Thursday.

Lawyers for Planned Parenthood said under the law, it would no longer be able to provide the abortion pill at its Little Rock and Fayetteville clinics because most of the doctors approached by the organization refused to contract with Planned Parenthood.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed the measure into law, said he was hopeful the Court would uphold the law, which he called a "common sense approach for safety."

"As made evident by their lawsuit, Planned Parenthood places a premium on the convenience of abortion providers over the health and welfare of women seeking these procedures," Hutchinson said in a written statement

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This story has been corrected to reflect that Susan Allen is the spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.