Supreme Court won’t hear appeal of restrictive Arkansas abortion law

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By The Washington Post

 

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Tuesday (May 29) turned down a challenge to a restrictive Arkansas law that for now will end the use of medication abortions in the state and could close two of the state’s three abortion clinics.

 

The law requires doctors who provide medication abortions to have a contract with a specialist who has hospital admitting privileges. Abortion providers say the requirement is burdensome and unnecessary because complications are extremely rare from the two-pill regimen that is used in the first nine weeks of pregnancy, and any that do arise can be handled by a local emergency room or hospital.

While Planned Parenthood said it would immediately notify patients that it can no longer offer the procedure in the state, the case is expected to return to lower courts for more fact-finding about its benefits and burdens.

 

“Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said in a statement.

“This dangerous law also immediately ends access to safe, legal abortion at all but one health center in the state,” Laguens said. “If that’s not an undue burden, what is? This law cannot and must not stand. We will not stop fighting for every person’s right to access safe, legal abortion.”

The state has only three abortion clinics, and two of those offer only medication abortions. So the law could leave only one clinic, in Little Rock, to serve the entire state — and it would have to offer only surgical abortions.

Planned Parenthood said it would ask a lower court to again halt the law until a judge can hold a trial on the law to show how many women could be affected by it.

Arkansas contends the law is needed because there are more complications with medication abortions than surgical ones, and that Planned Parenthood had not proved that it could not comply with the law or that a large portion of women seeking abortions would be affected.

“As attorney general, I have fully defended this law at every turn and applaud the Supreme Court’s decision against Planned Parenthood today,” said Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “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.”

U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker had temporarily blocked the law, concluding that any medical benefit from the contract requirement would be “incrementally small” while the burden on women’s access to abortion would be substantial. The law was “a solution in search of a problem,” the judge said.

Two years ago, the Supreme Court voted 5 to 3 to overturn a similar Texas law that required doctors who provided abortions to have admitting privileges in a local hospital.

The Texas law “provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority.

The admitting-privileges requirement in Texas cut the number of abortion providers by half.

But a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld the Arkansas law.

That court said Baker had “failed to make factual findings estimating the number of women burdened by the statute” – those who would either forgo or postpone an abortion because of the law.

Planned Parenthood said in its petition to the Supreme Court that was an approach the majority had rejected in the Texas decision, and that the burden in Arkansas would be extreme.

“The restriction would eliminate entirely a safe, common method of early abortion and force all women in the state to travel (twice) to a single provider in Little Rock to have a surgical procedure – thereby preventing many women from obtaining an abortion altogether and delaying many others,” the petition said. “Worse yet, it would do so even where a medication abortion is medically indicated or strongly preferred.”

But the Supreme Court declined to accept the challenge, without noted dissent even from liberal justices who are supportive of abortion rights.

The case is Planned Parenthood of Arkansas & Eastern Oklahoma v. Jegley.

– Robert Barnes (c) 2018, The Washington Post