Surprise from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s going to allow a district judge’s injunction against a new Arkansas anti-abortion law to remain in effect while Planned Parenthood seeks a U.S. Supreme Court review of whether Arkansas Act 577 of 2015 is constitutional.

The law requires abortion providers to have a physician with hospital admitting privileges if they prescribe the pills used to induce miscarriage in the first 8 to 9 weeks of pregnancy. Doctors, fearing reprisals from anti-abortion advocates, have been unwilling to sign on. The pharmaceutical abortion is safer than natural childbirth, but the legislature passed it under the pretense it was aimed at protecting women. It was aimed at putting Planned Parenthood out of the abortion business and ending the availability of pharmaceutical abortion in Arkansas. That’s the only type of abortion provided by Planned Parenthood at clinics in Fayetteville and Little Rock. It is also included among services of the state’s only other abortion provider, Little Rock Family Planning, which also provides clinical abortions. Those abortions are not covered by the law.


District Judge Kristine Baker ruled the law unconstitutional as an undue burden on women. But the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to her for more specific testimony on the burden that closure of Planned Parenthood clinics would mean to women. The 8th Circuit also initially refused to back off its order lifting Baker’s injunction.

Planned Parenthood made another plea for a stay while it seeks U.S. Supreme Court review. Similar laws have been struck down in other states. Today, the 8th Circuit said the preliminary injunction could remain in effect, something of a surprise given the strong anti-abortion and conservative bent of a court dominated by Republican appointees.


The order today came without comment. It also came on a 2-1 vote, with Judges Jane Kelly and James Gritzner approving the stay and Judge Raymond Gruender voting against the motion. Kelly is an Obama appointee. Gritzner, a senior district judge from Iowa who handles some 8th Circuit cases, and Gruender were appointed to judgeships by George W. Bush. Kelly replaced another judge, William Riley, who retired Aug. 31.

Said Planned Parenthood:


Act 577 is a medically unnecessary  and draconian abortion restriction that would’ve eliminated all but one abortion provider in the  state of Arkansas.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains Interim President and CEO Aaron Samulcek:

“Planned Parenthood Great Plains never wavered in protecting our patients’ constitutional  rights to access safe, legal abortion. Act 577 would impose medically unnecessary and  senseless restrictions on access to abortion, creating undue burdens for women in the state. As  we march forward to seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court, we stand by the countless  Arkansans who will continue accessing expert, compassionate health care at our health centers in Fayetteville and Little Rock.”

Planned Parenthood faults the 8th Circuit for refusing to consider that the requirement of a backup physician provides no demonstrable benefits except to those who want to restrict abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Texas on that ground, the organization said.

I sought comment  from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who’s pressed for this and other anti-abortion measures. Said her spokesman Judd Deere:

“It is unfortunate that Planned Parenthood continues to fight reasonable, common sense health and safety regulations to ensure that medication abortions are conducted in a safe manner. Attorney General Rutledge will continue to defend this law and urge the Supreme Court of the United States to reject certiorari.”

Said Planned Parenthood:

The Arkansas requirement is impossible to comply with for many reasons, including because it  limits eligible backup providers to a very narrow scope of medical practitioners, and because, as  numerous courts have recognized, abortion providers face severe stigma, harassment, and  violence. This law fails to guarantee the privacy – and therefore the safety — of the backup  provider and could open physicians up to harassment or political pressure. And it does nothing  to add to patient safety.

Leading medical experts like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose  medically unnecessary restrictions like these because they bar access to safe medical care.

According to the CDC, abortion has a more than 99% safety record. In those rare cases when  complications do occur, they are similar to those that may occur from miscarriage, which obgyns and other physicians treat every day. Planned Parenthood Great Plains works every day to  make sure women receive high-quality health care in a safe, respectful environment. We have  rigorous standards and training for staff as well as emergency plans in place because women’s  safety is our first priority.

In the extremely unlikely event that a patient experiences a serious complication from an  abortion and requires hospital-based care, the high-quality, experienced physicians and nurses  who work at Planned Parenthood have detailed systems in place to ensure that a patient gets  care quickly. A recent, large-scale study showed that only 0.16 percent of medication abortion  patients experienced a significant complication, and only six out of every 10,000 patients (0.06  percent) experienced complications resulting in hospital admission.

Enforcement of the law would leave only a single clinical abortion provider in Little Rock. Planned Parenthood notes that existing requirements of the law require a woman to make two trips to a doctor before receiving an abortion. For someone in Fayetteville, that would mean two 380-mile round trips to receive a surgical abortion.