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Planned Parenthood just had to cancel women’s abortions in Arkansas

The Supreme Court declined to hear the organization's case, which allowed a law banning medication abortions to take effect.

by Carter Sherman
May 29 2018, 10:05pm

Planned Parenthood patients in Arkansas got some harrowing news Tuesday morning: Their abortions had been cancelled. If they still want to undergo the procedure, Arkansas women may now be forced to travel as many as 380 miles.

The Supreme Court declined to review a case on Tuesday about a 2015 Arkansas law that requires abortion providers that offer medication abortions to contract with doctors who can admit patient to a hospital. Planned Parenthood lawyers had asked the Court to put the law on hold, but when the justices declined to hear their case, Arkansas became free to enforce the regulations.

And because Planned Parenthood couldn’t find any doctors willing to contract with its two Arkansas clinics, which only perform medication abortions, the organization now has to cease offering the procedure in the state.

“Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion. This dangerous law immediately ends access to safe, legal abortion at all but one health center in the state,” Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, said in a statement. “If that’s not an undue burden, what is?”

While the text of the Arkansas measure doesn’t explicitly outlaw medication abortions, enacting the law constitutes an effective ban on the procedure. Only one abortion clinic, in Little Rock, can still able to offer abortions.

READ: 7 states only have one remaining abortion clinic. We talked to the people keeping them open.

A patient undergoing a medication abortion takes two pills several hours apart. The procedure is overwhelmingly safe: A landmark study on the safety of American abortion from National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found earlier this year that complications arose after medication abortion in “no more than a fraction of a percent of patients.”

In 2015, however, Arkansas lawmakers passed a measure mandating that doctors who hand out abortion-inducing pills maintain a contract with a physician who has hospital admitting privileges, to handle all potential complications. Planned Parenthood, which operates clinics in Fayetteville and Little Rock that offer only medication abortions, reached out to every OB-GYN in the state, according to court records. None were willing to contract with the organization.

Planned Parenthood started notifying patients Tuesday morning that they couldn’t continue with their planned procedures, even if they wanted to or medically needed to.

A federal district court initially blocked Arkansas’ law from going into effect after the judge found the provisions would likely pose an unconstitutional “undue burden” to women in the state who wanted abortions. A three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit then vacated that decision, after the judges found that “the district court failed to make factual findings estimating the number of women burdened by the statute.”

READ: Medical community slams study pushing "abortion reversal" procedure

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood contended that the court didn’t need that information to issue a preliminary injunction against the law. After all, Supreme Court hadn’t asked for such data in past abortion cases like Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt — a case in which the justices struck down a Texas abortion restriction similar to Arkansas’.

“This [law] will particularly affect women who strongly prefer medication abortion, including those who find it traumatic to have instruments placed in their vaginas because they are victims of rape, incest, or domestic violence, as well as women for whom medication abortion is medically indicated and safer than surgical abortion,” Planned Parenthood lawyers wrote in their briefs to the Supreme Court.

As usual, the justices didn’t explain why they declined 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," Arkansas’ Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement to the Associated Press. "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, however, is now scrambling to ask the district court for “emergency relief” from the law.

Cover image: A woman carries an anti-abortion sign on her back during a rally at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

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