Planned Parenthood Great Plains today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review and correct the 8th Circuit Court of Appeal’s July ruling that would allow the state to effectively ban the safest abortion procedure — the administration of drugs that would trigger miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy.
At issue is Arkansas’s Act 557 of 2015, which requires physicians who provide medical abortion — including Arkansas’s two Planned Parenthood Clinics and Little Rock Family Planning Services — to contract with a second physician with hospital privileges. A nearly identical law passed in Texas has already been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The 8th Circuit, one of the nation’s most conservative courts, ordered federal District Judge Kristine Baker to vacate an injunction she issued against the new law, saying because she had failed to “make factual findings estimating the number of women burdened by the statute, we vacate the preliminary injunction and remand for further proceedings.”
“Politicians claim it’s all about health and safety,” Dr. Stephanie Ho of Fayetteville said in a telephone press conference today. “As a physician dedicated to the health and safety of patients I can say that Act 577 has nothing to do with health and safety,” and all physician associations, including the American College of Gynecologists, agree. With a complication rate of less than 1 percent, medical abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, Ho said.
How can it be safer to require a woman have an invasive surgical abortion — which will be the only abortion option left — rather than one by
Ho said the burden the law places on her patients — two 380-mile round trips to meet the 48-hour rule the legislature enacted to keep women from exercising their constitutional right to abortion — would mean that a quarter of the women in her area would not be able to obtain an abortion.
The 8th Circuit stayed its ruling in October, so medical abortion is still available in Arkansas. If the Supreme Court declines to hear Planned Parenthood’s petition or rules against it, the law will go into effect.
Today’s press release from Planned Parenthood (emphasis added):
Little Rock – Today, Planned Parenthood Great Plains (PPGP) is petitioning the Supreme Court of the United States to review and correct the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals’s decision to vacate a preliminary injunction that blocked a medically unnecessary abortion restriction in Arkansas. If this dangerous law is enforced, it would make Arkansas the first and only state to effectively ban medication abortion entirely. It would also end access to abortion at all health centers except for one in the entire state.
Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court found in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that a nearly identical Texas law was medically unnecessary and unconstitutional. The impact in Arkansas would be even more severe — ending access to abortion at two-thirds of providers and essentially banning medication abortion.
Act 577 requires physicians who provide medication abortion to contract with a second physician who holds hospital admitting privileges, which does nothing to increase patient health and safety and actually makes it more difficult to obtain a safe abortion.
Today’s filing does not immediately affect access to medication abortion services at Planned Parenthood, which continues to offer medication abortion at its health centers in Little Rock and Fayetteville.
“The Supreme Court already looked at a nearly identical Texas restriction and found it to be unconstitutional. The impact would be even more severe in Arkansas, making it the first and only state to effectively ban medication abortion. This law is yet another attempt by politicians to control women’s bodies and quietly ban abortion,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Individual rights and freedoms go to the heart of who we are as a country, including the right to decide if and when to become a parent.”
“Act 577 is yet another ideological ploy to make safe, legal abortion inaccessible in the state of Arkansas. With a laundry list of medically unnecessary restrictions already enforced, it’s hard enough for Arkansans to access safe abortion services without the added burden that Act 577 creates by eliminating all but one provider in the state. PPGP is taking this fight to the Supreme Court to ensure that access to sexual and reproductive health care, including safe, legal abortion is more than a right in name only,” said Aaron Samulcek, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains.
“Laws like Act 577 in Arkansas have no basis in the standard of care. Just like for every other medical professional, my job is to do what is right for my patients, and my patients already face nearly insurmountable odds to access safe, legal abortion as it is. Act 577 would only create more harm to the health and well-being of Arkansans needing access to sexual and reproductive health care,” said Dr. Stephanie Ho, a PPGP physician and a plaintiff in the case.
Because of an existing 48-hour forced delay, women in the Fayetteville area would be forced to make a 380-mile round-trip twice to access an abortion in Little Rock (traveling more than 760 miles for at least 10 hours). This is hardest on people who already face barriers to care such as people of color, young people, and those with low incomes. For those earning low incomes and working jobs that don’t offer vacation or sick time, taking multiple days off from work and paying for travel to Little Rock is not an option.
Politicians in Arkansas have passed 29 restrictions on safe, legal abortion since 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Ninety-seven percent of Arkansas counties have no clinics that provide abortions, and 77 percent of Arkansas women live in those counties. This law would make it impossible for many to get the care they need.
In her March ruling, Judge Baker wrote, “Inability to travel to the sole remaining clinic in the state will lead some women to take desperate measures, such as attempting to self-abort or seeking care from unsafe providers, which would further put their health at risk.”
Dangers to the health of women has not, of course, been a concern of Arkansas legislators who created the law.