LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A Planned Parenthood subsidiary told the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday that Arkansas' restrictions on how abortion pills are administered could effectively end medication abortions in the state and leave Arkansas with only one clinic where women can end their pregnancies.
Under an Arkansas law passed in 2015, doctors who provide abortion pills must hold a contract with another physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital and who would agree to handle complications. An Arkansas federal judge issued an injunction barring enforcement of the law in 2016, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed her decision, saying she had failed to determine how many women would be "unduly burdened" by the law. The appeals court delayed the effect of its order, allowing Planned Parenthood Great Plains to appeal to the Supreme Court on Thursday.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she was pleased to have won the appeals court case and would review Planned Parenthood's filing. Her office had said previously that the law was intended to protect women's health. Dr. Stephanie Ho, who operates Planned Parenthood's clinic at Fayetteville in northwestern Arkansas, said it doesn't.
"Act 577 has nothing to do with health and safety," she said at a news conference conducted by telephone. "This law is part of a broader political agenda to ban abortion in Arkansas."
Planned Parenthood Great Plains said the 8th Circuit should have ruled the law unconstitutional rather than dissolve the preliminary injunction. The organization offers pills to end pregnancies at clinics in Fayetteville and Little Rock but says it cannot find any Arkansas obstetrician willing to handle hospital admissions, creating an undue burden for women seeking abortions.
"As the district court recognized, this is not surprising because 'physicians who provide abortions or associate with physicians who provide abortions' in Arkansas 'risk being ostracized from their communities and face harassment and violence toward themselves, their family and their private practices,'" the lawyers wrote.
The Guttmacher Institute, a national research group that supports abortion rights, says seven other states have hospital-admittance laws similar to the one in Arkansas. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Texas law in 2016.
Planned Parenthood says if the law stands, Arkansas would be the only state where women would not have access to a pair of drugs that end pregnancies: mifepristone, which makes it difficult for a fetus to attach to the uterine wall, and misoprostol, which causes the body to expel it, similar to a miscarriage.
The state has one surgical abortion clinic in Little Rock. Planned Parenthood says it cannot provide surgical abortions without renovating clinics at a "considerable expense" it cannot afford.
Americans United for Life said in a statement that Planned Parenthood was attempting to use the court to avoid complying with a reasonable requirement.
"Planned Parenthood ... shouldn't get a free pass from the High Court permitting it to nullify state abortion laws just because some abortion business would rather close than spend the money to comply with the laws," chief legal officer Steven H. Aden said.
A study published by a pair of Guttmacher researchers in January said that, as of 2014, there were 15 states with three or fewer clinics that offered abortion services. Five states had just one: Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker had ruled last year that women forced to have surgical abortions face increased travel times to other clinics and that abortions later in a pregnancy "are both riskier and more expensive."
Arkansas legislators have adopted a number of abortion restrictions since taking control of both chambers this decade. Baker in July blocked enforcement of four other laws — the same day the 8th Circuit reversed her decision in the abortion pills case.
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